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LOS ANGELES ART COMI-IUNITY: GROUP PORTRAIT
Interviewed by George M. Goodwin
Completed under the auspices
Oral History Program
University of California
los Angel •
Copyright © 19 77
The Regents of the University of California
This manuscript is hereby made available for research
purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript,
including the right to publication, are reserved to the
University Library of the University of California at
Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted
for publication without the written permission of the
University Librarian of the University of California
at Los Angeles.
LOS ANGELES ART COMMUNITY: GROUP PORTRAIT
This interview is one of a series, entitled "Los Angeles
Art Community: Group Portrait," funded by the National
Endowment for the Humanities and conducted from July 1,
1975 to March 31, 1977 by the UCLA Oral History Program.
The project was directed jointly by Page Ackerman,
University Librarian, and Gerald Nordland, Director,
UCLA Art Galleries, and administered by Bernard Galm,
Director, Oral History Program. After selection of
interview candidates and interviewers, the Program
assumed responsibility for the conduct of all interviews
and their processing.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side One (January 6, 1977) 315
Appointment as director of Otis Art Institute
— New building activity — New faculty — Divisions
on board — MFA degree--Individual projects —
Ceramics: Peter Voulkos — Gifts from the
private sector — The Chandler family — Otis
Institute today — Relationship with county
government — California Institute of the Arts —
Walt Disney's plan — the effect of Disney's
death--Resignation from the Cal Arts board —
The Art Center School — Teaching imagination
in art--Mural painting: first exposure — Early
commissions--Frescoes for South Pasadena Junior
High School — Murals for the Golden Gate
TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side Two (January 6, 1977) 358
Diego Rivera — Public Works Administration
projects in Southern Calif ornia--PWA committee
membership--Activities — Los Angeles art
community in the Depression- -PWA artists —
Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg — Initial
involvement with Home Savings — Meeting Howard
Ahraanson — Ahmanson's office — Invitation to
design a building--Ahmanson ' s instructions —
Submitting an art budget — Ahmanson inspects
the building--Ahmanson: "Where do we go
next?" — Public response.
TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side One (January 11, 1977). . . . 384
Criteria for Home Savings designs — Developing
a formula — Desire for flexibility — Importance
of function — Problems of construction —
Obstacles: city planners, bureaucrats — Role
of subordinates — Art and landscaping--Costs —
Use of stained glass — Use of ceramic tiles —
Favorite Home Savings building: Hollywood —
Mosaics — Choosing a design — Preparatory
research--Other Home Savings buildings.
TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side Two (January 11, 1977) .... 412
Durability of buildings — Self-criticism of Home
Savings designs — Payment for designs — Other
work for Ahmanson — Commission for mosaic mural
at Detroit Public Library — Commission for mural
at Notre Dame University Library — Use of granite
--Building the mural, in Minnesota — Matching
colors and granite--Attaching the granite:
using pins — Seeking an overview.
TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side One (January 13, 1977) 438
Examining the design from atop a water tower —
Checking the details--Moving the cut pieces
from Minnesota to Indiana--Dedication
ceremonies--Personal satisfaction and public
response--Cost and university fund raising —
Details and colors — Mural for dome of National
Shrine, Washington, D.C. — Design problems —
Computerized cartoons — Mural for a side chapel
--Other artists working in mosaics — Ravenna
Mosaic Company--Costs and fees.
TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side Two (January 13, 1977) 464
Costs and fees [cont 'd] --Cost increases —
Social responsibility — Developing a master
plan for the Claremont Colleges--Designing
the Garrison Theatre--Executing tile mural
for Honolulu Hilton Hotel--Adoption of mural
design as Hilton logo — Mural for Los Angeles
City Hall East — Techniques of glazing —
Sources of design--Consulting for Scottish
Rite cathedral, Los Angeles.
TAPE NUMBER: X, Side One (January 16, 1977) 489
Scottish Rite Masonic Temple: subjects and
designs — Mosaic mural--Sculpture on the south
facade — Interior spaces and decoration —
Masons' funds and philanthropic activities —
Designing the Masonic temple in San Francisco
— Other activities: involvement in motion
pictures — Design for academic gowns for
Scripps College — Official seal for Los Angeles
County — Work for air force in Formosa —
Lectures for State Department in Turkey —
Travels in Turkey.
TAPE NUMBER: X, Side Two (January 16, 1977) 515
Further travels in Turkey — Visit for State
Department to Soviet Union — Russia and the
Russians — Return to United States: lecture
tours — Reaction of State Department —
Republican politics: delegate to 1964
National Convention--Virginia Steele Scott
Foundation: trusteeship — Background —
Planning a new museum — Concentration on
American art — Plans for the future — Buying
art for Bullock's Department Store.
TAPE NUMBER: XI [video] (February 5, 1977) 542
Barking Rocks, the Sheets home in Northern
California — A tour of the art collection —
Mrs. Sheets: children and grandchildren —
Interest in horses and pets--Design of
[Second Part] (February 9, 1977) .... 557
Sheets paintings in Scott Foundation
collection in Pasadena — Oils and watercolors,
1930s — Acrylics and watercolors, 1960s —
Dramatic change of style--The nature of
painting — Painting a watercolor — A tapestry
— Use of color--Final ruminations.
Index of Millard Sheets Works 587
TAPE NUMBER: VII, SIDE ONE
JANUARY 6, 1977
GOODWIN: In 1955 you became the director of Otis Art
Institute. How did that come about?
SHEETS: Well, that's the kind of a thing that can happen,
I guess, once or twice in a person's lifetime. During the
winter, before I started at Otis in the fall, I had a ter-
rible accident with a horse. The horse threw his head back,
broke my cheekbone. I had a crack that went halfway around
my head; it just knocked the hell out of me. I was spending
considerable time at home after the operations that they had
to make after the ten days waiting for the concussion to
heal. I had a call from John Anson Ford, and from Mrs.
[Leiland Atherton] Irish, who was a great person in Los
Angeles in those days. She had done so much for music.
She'd worked on many philanthropic boards, and she was a
member of the board of the Otis Art Institute, as was Mr.
Ford, who then was a county supervisor. They called me to
see if they could come out and discuss with me the possi-
bility of hiring a new director for Otis Art Institute.
I held them off for about a week until I felt a little
better. They came out, and we had a very interesting after-
noon discussing the problem. I pointed out rather quickly
in our conversation that I felt it would be difficult to
get a director for the Otis Art Institute. The institute
had slowly run down to the point that there were students
that had been there for twelve years. They were profes-
sional students, and they had a kind of an atmosphere that
wasn't at all like it was in the early days of Roscoe
[Edwin R.] Schroder and the early days of the institute.
I said I didn't believe they could get a director that was
worth anything, worth his salt or her salt, to come there
and direct the school as it was being operated. They said,
"Well, how should it be operated?" I made the inevitable
mistake of saying many things about what I thought should
be done in a school of that kind. [tape recorder turned
I believe deeply that a school, to be supported by the
public, should function in a unique way and do something
that a private school could not do. I felt that there was
a great need for a top art school that wasn't entirely com-
mercial and wasn't entirely aesthetic, that somewhere
between the thing that is being done in most of the colleges
and most of the art schools, there could be some absolutely
sound, basic training in the skills in art on a high level
of taste with a good, strong background for the artist. I
outlined this in general to these nice people.
Well, they were quite interested in what I had to say,
but they said, "Look, would you be willing to meet with our
board after you've had some time to outline what you think
the Los Angeles County Art Institute should be — the kind
of curriculum, the kind of a program, whether it should be
formalized and so on--and then meet with us in a leisurely
way some evening in Los Angeles and talk to the whole board?"
Well, having nothing else to do except to wait to get over
this terrible head injury, I did a lot of thinking about it,
and I wrote down a real concept for a school. I went, at
their invitation, and presented my ideas.
I remember we met at the California Club, and I out-
lined what I felt was a solid, major institute of art,
where students could go in any direction they wanted if
they were sufficiently trained in the total aspect of art.
In other words, I felt that they needed not only to draw
and to paint if they wished to be painters, but they should
have adequate training in design and sculpture, some in
architecture, so that these people would be able to roll
with the punch and do things that the average student isn't
able to do, what most of the students, really, as they come
out of school today are not able to do. I said I felt that
unless the Otis Art Institute was this type of school, I
didn't see any reason for it to exist. I thought it should
go out of business. We have a good school in the Art Center
which is a more commercially oriented school. Within its
sphere, I think it's doing as fine a job as any school in
the United States. I think it's doing it today as it was
in those days. I felt that there were plenty of colleges
giving all of the aesthetic hocus-pocus, that we didn't
need to get into that area. This school should do something
that was really needed, and I made the point that the
tremendous growth in industry here, the tremendous need
for redesigning our whole city and surroundings, both from
an ecological point of view and from an aesthetic point of
view, we needed artists who were trained as people who
could work with business people, with industry, with
politicians, who could stand on their own feet and hold
their ground in a way that I think an educated person can.
To my surprise, they became very enthusiastic about
this idea. Finally, at the end of the meeting, John Anson
Ford said, "Well, Millard, would you become the director if
we made it into that kind of a school?" I said, "John, I'm
as safe as though I were in God's pocket because you'll
never have the courage to turn the faculty upside down,
hire new staff, build the necessary buildings, and support
it as it would have to be supported. So I feel very safe
in saying that yes, I would, because it would be a tremen-
dously exciting challenge if you did it. But I just don't
believe that with all the best of intentions on the part
of this board, that you can do it in Los Angeles."
Well, it just happened that they went to work, and
after about two months they came to me with an extremely
firm proposal about the way they were going to support this
school. I asked for a leave of absence from Scripps, where
I was very happy. I was completely my own boss; I had the
most marvelous staff, the greatest relationship with the
students and faculty, and lived there, and my children
were growing up there in Claremont. I felt that it was
almost impossible to really leave Scripps, so I asked for
a leave of absence, and I said that I would like to get
the school started and as soon as possible train a director
to take my place.
Well, what of course happened was that it took a full
year to plan the school and to hire the new faculty, which
meant I had to have another year's leave of absence. Of
course, we planned the building, we planned all the new
courses, and it was a very exciting moment in my life. I
think that the staff we brought together in the beginning
were absolutely devoted to this basic idea of interplay
between the various facets of art training, the various
skills. At the same time, we were able to get the students
very excited about the idea of an artist being really
educated. It was a very tough thing, on the other hand,
to have to really let go the majority of the old faculty
and to remove from the school about 9 5 percent of the
students who had been going there. There were some stories
in that that are just incredible, if I ever told them, but
I think they are better left unsaid.
However, by the beginning of the second year, we had
started the new building. We were still working in part
of the old building, and we'd torn down the original front
building, which was the old Otis mansion, where I'd had my
office. We built a part of a new building, where I moved
my office and started work.
We set the level very high, starting at the second-
year-college level. The requirement was that they should
have a minimum of two years of college or, hopefully, four
years of college. We were as tough in checking their
transcripts as any other college or university would be.
Then, of course, in addition to satisfactory work in
college, which proved to us that they had an intellectual
capacity, we demanded a strong portfolio. I think, con-
sidering the fact that we were starting from scratch, that
we had an extraordinary group of students in those first
years, because we kept the standard high. The county
agreed that we didn't have to fill it up with a lot of
bodies, that they were willing to let it grow. I think
we started with about eighty-five students, with a staff
of six major, full professors and about that many assistant
professors. It meant that we had a very high proportion of
professor-to-student, which I think is better education
In the main, it worked very well. It is true that I
probably made a few mistakes on appointments, because you
can't always know how a person will truly react, even
though they wish to agree in principle with the philosophy.
I made two or three appointments that didn't turn out right
in the sense that they were basically such individualists
that they didn't really want to be a part of a larger team
GOODWIN: Who were some of the people you brought to the
school, some of the faculty?
SHEETS: On the first faculty, Richard Haines was head of
painting; Renzo Fenci was the head of sculpture; Peter
Voulkos was the head of the ceramic department; oh, the
man from Pasadena Junior College Cwho , I understand, is
back at Otis now) [Leonard] Edmondson, was the head of
design; and [Herbert] Jepson, who was a marvelous teacher,
was the head of drawing. Those were the key, basic, full
professors. I didn't even have an assistant. I didn't
have a dean, even. We started cold, and I worked very
closely with the staff.
GOODWIN: Were you teaching also?
SHEETS: I didn't actually teach, but I spent a tremendous
amount of time with the students: in conference, in dis-
cussion, in advice. I spent a great deal of time with
almost every student before they came in to the school,
and then I followed through with them. I did do quite a
bit of lecturing on my concept of the relation of art to
society and some art history. We had a top man from USC
in art history [John Braun] . He was one of the best
lecturers at USC at that time. We had a doctor who was
a brilliant man in anatomy. He's a good painter in his
own right. He's a doctor, but he paints as an avocation.
He's an excellent painter. He taught anatomy — not in a
dull, pedantic way, but in a very creative way. He worked
very closely with Jepson. We had other people, like Joe
Mugnani, and we had other painters. I should get a list
and show you the list, but I can hand you that later.
GOODWIN: Did you bring anyone from Scripps?
SHEETS: No, I did not. I did not feel that it was right
for me to do that. Well, I did bring two or three of the
Scripps professors in — one on history — but not in a sense
of taking them away from Scripps. This was a matter of
their coming in, perhaps, for two lectures a week. I had
two or three people from Scripps that did that, but I didn't
take anyone from the art staff. I didn't feel it was right,
and also I felt always I was going back to Scripps.
Well, it took longer than I thought it would to get
this program into gear. I think it was about the third or
fourth year that I felt we were really beginning to move,
in the full sense. We had a lot of people in industry, a
lot of people in various facets of business, really looking
at our school with the thought that they could get a very
thoroughly trained person. Of course, out of that group
came young people like Tom Van Sant, who has done incredible
things all over the world. He was the second graduate. Our
first graduate was in ceramics, Paul Soldner, who later
became the head of the ceramic department at Scripps and
is known now all over the world. I think the first thirty
or forty graduates were all people who really made names
Then, as so often happens, I think we developed a
combination of many things. For one thing, I had become
so deeply involved in my own professional work that I had
to give less and less time to the school, though I was
going there regularly and being in my office regularly and
running staff meetings and all of that kind of thing. I
didn't have the time that I had had in the beginning for
the more personal side of work with students, and I think
that the staff felt less unified because of that. I think
they became a little bit more self-contained as individuals
and didn't really, in the full sense, cooperate. They were
more interested in getting the best students in their classes,
and this is often the case. I feel as responsible for that
as anyone else.
Also, we had quite a division on our board about the
future support of the school. One member, who one time was
chairman of the board, felt that we should literally hand
this school to use for a dollar a year and let them take it
over and take it off of the county support roll. I certainly
was not happy with that thought, for two reasons. I felt
that use hadn't particularly distinguished itself in art.
They've had a good school of architecture, and they've had
a few good students come out of USC as artists, but I don't
think it would have been the college I would have selected
anyway, if we had to go the route of selecting a college.
This became a real fight which split the board right in
half. The Otis Art Institute board supported me in the
main, although two or three members were very bitter about
the fact that I became a block to accomplishing this. I
might say that there were three members of our board who
were very closely related to USC : one lady whose husband
was on the USC board; the librarian from USC was on the
board; and the third person was an architect that did a
good deal of the work at USC.
GOODWIN: Why did Otis need a board?
SHEETS: Well, any of the divisions within the county that
are run as separate operations, in a sense, must have a lay
board appointed by the supervisors. Each of the five board
members appointed two people on alternating terms for the
Otis board. These people were, of course, then able to
check back to their supervisor and keep the supervisor
involved, and it was very important that they do that because
the supervisors sitting down there found it difficult at
times to explain to the lay public why they had to support
an art school. Now, if it had been an art school strictly
run for artists, I think there would have been a lot of
legitimate reasons why people didn't think it should be
supported. But we envisaged this school as serving the
needs of the county in a very direct way. We did not mean
that every student that graduated had to go out and become
a servant of the county. If they had the capacity to
become highly creative artists and be utterly independent
and live in an ivory tower, we didn't in any way downgrade
this thought. But you don't have that many people out of
any society that necessarily warrant that kind of freedom.
I think that the Board of Supervisors thoroughly understood
when we made them rebuild this program, because I spent a
great deal of time talking with them, as I did with the then
chief administrative officer of the county, Arthur Will, who
was an amazing man. I did have full support of the five
members of the Board of Supervisors in all the early years
of the school .
As the time went on and these splits occurred, par-
ticularly as the lady that I mentioned whose husband was
on the use board at that time was probably the most powerful
woman in Los Angeles, you could see that we had problems.
I left by resigning. I wasn't in any way asked to resign.
I left because I just simply couldn't teach anywhere any
longer. I had so much work and many necessities for travel
for my own business that I just couldn't continue. I stayed
six years. The last two years were filled with this
frustrating feeling that the school really wasn't being
supported as it should be by part of the board of governors,
and then in turn, the people they represented on the main
I've even heard riomors lately that they are talking
about completely removing support to the County Art Institute,
which would be the death knell for it. It's hard to conceive,
but I've heard this.
GOODWIN: What was the cost to the county while you were
SHEETS: Our budget was very small, relatively speaking.
I can't remember, off the top of my head. I'm sure I have
it. I can get it without any trouble, but it was a low
overhead. There was no serious, major amount of money. It
would be such an infinitesmal part of the budget that you
wouldn't know it was there. But we did have a good staff.
We had fine personnel all the way through, from the
GOODWIN: Did you introduce the MFA degree or was that
already in existence?
SHEETS: I introduced it at Scripps, and we gave the MFA
degree at Otis. That was part of the plan: to start at
the second year and not give an interim degree, no BA or
anything that had to do with a fourth-year degree. We
were to go straight through for the four years and then
give an MFA, which really meant that the student was
equipped. They were masters of their craft and they were
able to go out and serve. Right after I left the institute,
they immediately changed that and gave the interim degree,
which I think is just valueless. Many students take that
and leave, which means they're not even half-baked — they're
Of course, we had another problem right from the
beginning, and that was to get the staff to really get with
this problem to the point that they didn't encourage anyone
after the first year, or certainly after the second year, if
they didn't really feel that the student was of the quality
material that should be there. I think if there's any
feeling I had about the staff that I selected, it was their
inability to really face that issue honestly with their
students. They became attached to them, as is normal in
any university or high school or college or anyplace else.
I think very often their hope that the student would do
better than he was doing often misguided them into carrying
him on. I felt that the grading was exceedingly high the
first year. It came down better the second year. By the
third year it seemed to make a little more sense. Many
artists, even though they've had some college and other
training, are not equipped to really grade as they should.
But the more we built those standards up, the better that
school became and the more exciting it became. As they
started to lower it, it went right back into another level
GOODWIN: What should a grade tell a student?
SHEETS: Well, of course you have three systems: you can
grade or you can write comments or you can just say "passing"
or "not passing." But I think the grade should tell the
student a certain amount. I think that if you follow the
present system of grading in most colleges and universities,
a B is a better-than-average grade. But I think that in the
mind of most Americans, B is the middle grade. Therefore,
it's really tough to start out with a C and call it average,
and then go down as you think you should. Of course, in my
opinion, those students that were getting below Cs shouldn't
have been in that school after a year because they didn't
It was not like a private institution that had to live
off of its tuition. Our tuition was extremely low. It
since has been raised a great deal. It was very low pur-
posely, and I was able to get considerable amounts of money
for scholarships. So we never turned down a good student,
ever. I had plenty of people, including myself, that would
pay scholarships if we didn't have the money in the scholar-
ship fund. We'd work it out. And I'm very proud of the
people that came through in that sense.
But the idea that you can work in an art school for
producing people in masses I don't agree with. I think
it's impossible. I don't think it's true of anything else,
either, but just certainly in the art field. If the students
don't learn the fundamental things in the first two years,
they have no business to go into the second or the third
and fourth year. And this is what I think happened eventually.
GOODWIN: As part of the MFA degree, a student worked on
a thesis or major project?
SHEETS: Well, yes. In the final granting of the degree
in their fourth year, the students worked primarily on
their own projects. They were freed by this time from
regular class requirements. They worked with the head
instructor in each field. They were almost apprenticed
to that person. I don't mean by that that they worked on
the professor's work. I don't mean that at all, but they
worked very close to them. The professor was expected to
give an exceeding amount of time — not just an occasional
passing criticism but to really launch the students into
major projects that would require a year to complete. The
final grades in the projects were given by the top staff
meiabers, at the full professor level. We, of course,
always had an exhibition of their work at the end of the
year. We were graduating at that time, oh, the first year
I think it was two, and then eight, and then sixteen. I
think we never did get over, while I was there, perhaps
twenty graduation students.
GOODWIN: What were some of the typical major projects?
SHEETS: Well, in sculpture I can remember there were proj-
ects that had heroic figures done sometimes in a very
exciting way. One young man won a Prix de Rome from his
master's project. Some member of the committee of the Prix
de Rome from New York was passing through and saw his
exhibit and said, "Enter the competition," and he won it.
That was a really great feeling on our part. Others worked
on big sections of a mural or maybe a group of paintings of
a certain subject matter that they wanted to develop a very
rounded feeling about. It varied enormously.
Oh, we had a marvelous graphics department, which I
didn't mention. We had Ernest Freed, who had been at Iowa,
studied with [Mauricio] Lasansky, who was an excellent print
man. We had the first really good graphic thing going here.
Then UCLA, immediately following that, developed a very
strong graphic department for a while. I don't know what
they're doing now, but they had a very, very fine department
twenty years ago. They brought three or four people out
that were doing superb work. Graphics was almost a new
thing in Southern California at that time as a real division
in the arts, because it required all of the excitement and
background of design and drawing and color and all the rest
of it. We had big etching presses. We had lithography.
They worked in a variety of print media.
GOODWIN: Didn't you also raise ceramics to a new level of
SHEETS: Well, I think we started that at Scripps, definitely.
I thought when we brought Peter Voulkos out that we really
had hit the jackpot in terms of a ceramic program. In my
life I 've never seen anything like what Pete Voulkos achieved
in the first two years at Otis. It was incredible. He was
at his height, as far as I'm personally concerned, in his
own work. His pots were magnificent. He could eat clay,
[laughter] He had a great spirit, and the students were
crazy about him. Then something happened. Pete became
disinterested completely in ceramics as he had practiced
it up to that point. He almost rebelled against everything
that was skillful. He started just taking house paint and
painting his pots if they had a low fire on them. He wasn't
interested in the high fire. He just became a completely
different kind of artist and immediately turned the depart-
ment around. It's an unfortunate fact that I had to let
him go after another year. The department was simply headed
for the rocks. The respect for the medium, for the discipline,
for what could be done in fine ceramics just went out the
window. And it was tragic. As I understand it now, Pete
is turning back towards his original view again. This has
been a long interim, fifteen years at least. He's done what
he calls sculpture, these enormous, mammoth things for many
years now. I'm sorry to say they don't impress me. They're
not things that have given me the thrill that he and lots
of art critics have felt about them. But I've heard recently
from people that know him quite well that he's become vitally
interested in reestablishing some of his great technical
skill and ability and imagination. I don't think anybody's
ever done a pot that's more vital and alive than some of
those early pots. They're just magnificent.
But the ceramic department has gone on. It has a very
good woman there now, who is formerly a Scripps graduate,
as a matter of fact, Whitey [Helen] Watson. She is doing a
great job there as the head of the ceramic department. I
don't know enough about the other departments. Arthur Ames,
I brought in to head the design for many years, until he
reached the age of retirement, as did Dick Haines and
several others. I don't really know what the new appoint-
ments are, but we had a lot of good students and were
turning out a lot of exciting things for a period of many
GOODWIN: Were you also involved in accelerating the gallery
activities at Otis?
SHEETS: Oh, yes. Well, I felt a gallery was absolutely
essential to the student body. I felt that we needed a
gallery, and we had a very good, well-planned, long-range
program where we brought what I think was a balanced diet
to the students. The curator for the gallery was Wayne
Long. We brought fine old things, great Oriental things,
the best we could get in all the fields of art. We had,
of course, very exciting contemporary exhibitions. We had
a series of brilliant shows over a period of many years.
After I left, those were continued for many years.
GOODWIN: Was there a gallery before you came?
SHEETS: No, no. We built the gallery. The only building
that was there before I came was one piece of the back
building, just one small part of it, and then all the rest
of it we built. The gallery program, I'm sure, is still
going. I don't know what the score is today at all. I
think it's an important thing for students not only to see
fine things and have a chance to see them in and out every
day, but also to exhibit their own work so they could get
some sense of what it was like to be hung in a gallery.
We had great student shows as well as the MFA shows at the
end of the year. We always had at least two major shows a
year for the students .
GOODWIN: Did the board at Otis provide any funding from
the private sector?
SHEETS: Quite a few members of the board gave gifts. It
was not a part of the regular budget. The Los Angeles
Times , through Mrs. [Norman] Chandler, gave a good deal of
money toward the library in the beginning. I think if I
remember correctly, it was in the neighborhood of $5,000
a year, which meant a lot to us, in addition to what money
we could get from the county. There were other people,
private people, and two or three businesses that gave us
considerable amounts of money, which we could accept grace-
fully for special uses: for scholarship, library, or
special exhibitions. We needed help quite often. Several
of us gave a great deal of help to the exhibitions because
they're expensive and it took a lot of time and money.
GOODWIN: Was the Chandler family as actively involved as
it might have been, considering that they're the descendants
of the Otis people?
SHEETS: Well, before I accepted the position, I went to
see Mrs. Chandler, Mrs. Buff Chandler. I told her exactly
what it was that we wanted to do. She had been on the board
formerly, as I think her husband had been at one time. But
she was not a member of the board, and I asked her first of
all what she thought of the program. I must have spent two
or three hours with her at her home, in those days in Arcadia.
After she showed a real sense of enthusiasm, I said, "Well,
I would be willing to go forward with this program, now that
the county has asked me to do it, if you would come back on
the board." She agreed, and she did. Whoever the super-
visor was — I can't remember which particular supervisor
appointed her, but he was delighted to do it because they
were very happy to have her serve. She was right in the
middle of getting the Music Center [of Los Angeles County]
going and was right in the center of all the things in Los
Angeles. For the first three years, she couldn't have given
more wholehearted support than she did. It was when this
change of heart came about, about USC , that that support
Unfortunately one of the members of the board that I
have not mentioned, who also wanted this whole thing changed
to USC, was Howard Ahmanson. He was the man I was working
for primarily on the outside. He also was a member of the
use board. I had to go through the agony of telling the
four of them I thought they should resign because they
made the statement that they didn't feel if anything
happened to them or they had to go away from the board
that the school would be able to stand on its feet. They
did resign before I left, and the school did stand on its
feet. I'm very sorry that I couldn't have stayed on to
see it stand on its feet permanently.
GOODWIN: Do you think that Otis has a different role today
than it had in the past?
SHEETS: Well, I have a strong feeling that when you leave
a position, you should not go back and make people feel
that you're blowing hot breath on their neck. For this
reason, I have not been to Otis. I don't go to Otis. I
don't solicit information about what's going on at Otis.
I can't help hearing a great many things, and it doesn't
seem to me that the program that we started is being carried
out at all at the present time. I think it has become more
like a typical art school or a typical college art depart-
ment, where they're interested primarily in teaching taste
and teaching contemporary fads in art, rather than saying,
"We're going to give you the background, if you have the
ability to develop your own concepts and your own styles."
This is the way it should be done. But we're talking about
probably the most important argument that there is today in
the art world: the difference between the ways and ideas
about how you should train an artist. I just don't agree
with the present philosophy. I'm afraid that Otis has
gone around and isn't any different than most of the
departments. I told you that already about Scripps.
GOODWIN: Right. I'm thinking, though, that there are so
many more art departments everywhere throughout Southern
California. Cal Arts is reorganized and has its own new
campus, and the same with Art Center School. I'm wondering
whether Otis really has a clear function anymore as long as
it continues to do what it has.
SHEETS: I doubt it very much, and I think it will come to
a head shortly. I was asked to stay on the board at Otis,
which I did for three years at least after I resigned as
director. It was during this period that I was on the
board that this big mix-up took place about USC. When
Mrs. Chandler resigned, her daughter-in-law [Marilyn
("Mitsy") Chandler] was appointed. Well, her background
in art is not exactly the deepest. I do not say this in
disrespect to her as a person, but I cannot believe that
her immature judgment about art and art training should
have dominated the changes that have taken place at Otis,
but they certainly have. She wanted a very contemporary,
very active expressionist, modernist — or whatever ism you
wished — to become the director and to switch the school
over completely. I think that this is what's happened.
They have suffered, really. The people who had been on
the original staff suffered through their final years
before they retired, because they were being pushed out
in every way. They became unhappy, and certainly the
school doesn't reflect any of the original direction.
Then after Mitsy Chandler had succeeded in completely
destroying the old concepts, she resigned. I think it's
GOODWIN: Was there anybody in the county government who
was particularly sympathetic to the idea of the county
supporting an art school, other than Supervisor Ford?
Was there mostly a great deal of hostility?
SHEETS: I never felt that people were at all hostile
toward me, but I felt that they questioned very much the
idea that the county should be in the business of running
an art school. Arthur Will was very much for it. He was
a man that had some background. He knew that cities reflect
the state of mind of the people, and if you do not train
artists, you don't train designers, you don't train creative
people, your city isn't going to be creative. It's just
inevitable. Through Arthur Will's support and John Anson
Ford and some of the other supervisors, not including Kenny
Hahn and one or two others who were against anything except
their own pet projects, we had some very strong support for
many years. Even Mr. Ford's successor [Ernest E. Debs] was
very strongly behind us. A list of the members of the board
would clearly point out the fact that the board was very
divided. [Warren M. ] Dorn was very much for the County
Art Institute. The man at Long Beach [Burton W. Chace]
who died was very much behind us. I think at first Kenny
Hahn was the only one that really picked on the idea.
Then that seeped down through.
The civil service people were very interesting to
me because I had to spend a great deal of time with them
to get them to understand the kind of appointments we had
to have. At first they were pretty cursory in their
approach to the problem, but as I spent time with them, I
found them not only quite sympathetic but I think we had
extremely strong support from them. When they understood
the level that we were trying to seek, they couldn't
attach that to just some little talk about art. The moment
it became a matter of how much real background and experience
and what the person had been doing with his life in relation
to society, they understood that very quickly. I felt, in
contrast to many people, that the civil service people were
among our strongest supporters.
I used to, of course, go to lunch with the heads of
all the county departments every three months at an off-
the-record lunch. I enjoyed thoroughly meeting the fifty-
two department heads. No supervisors were present. Arthur
Will, as chief administrator of the county, was there
always and the man that followed him. There was strong
respect within the group of department heads for what we
were doing in art. I talked to them many times at their
request about our program, and they were really enthusiastic.
The decline in support of Otis by the county didn't happen
from any pressure, really, from the county. I think it
happened just because the board of governors of the institute
were lazy and felt that they wanted to dump it onto somebody
GOODWIN: I've been trying to compare in my own mind the
experience Otis had with county government and the exper-
ience that the County Art Museum has had, because I know
that in some sense the art museum has been a stepchild of
county government, and it just doesn't fit.
SHEETS: It doesn't, and the Otis Art Institute didn't
until I started this new program. While that new program
was going full blast, there wasn't a problem. As the
program seemed to slip away and down into the ordinary
kind of a program, then it happened again. I can under-
I think you do know that I was on the Cal Arts board
when it was organized. Of course, here's a case where the
county isn't interfering at all because it was all private
money. We didn't talk about this before, did we?
SHEETS: Tragically, Walt Disney died at exactly the wrong
moment. Of course it's wrong for anyone to die, I suppose,
at any moment. But as far as the school was concerned, he
had built up so much feeling about this school and had
given so much attention to it and had stimulated a lot
of his friends into believing in this thing, and he died.
On the first board, there were only one or two of us that
really had any sense of what an art school was about. The
rest of the people were nice people, very good people.
Some of them had been involved with motion pictures,
financing motion pictures. Others were technically
involved with motion pictures. Others were very serious,
public-minded, public-spirited people. But an art school,
that's something else.
Walt's brother [Roy Disney] was an amazing man. He
had the most marvelous spirit, particularly toward Walt.
The whole thing had been as much his doing as Walt's,
really, the Walt Disney Studio. But the older brother
felt that he didn't ever want a kind of a Warner Brothers
title to the organization, so it was always called the Walt
Disney Studios. But Walt could never have done the job of
creating the tremendous studio that he did had it not been
for his brother. So when Walt died so suddenly, and as
his brother was ten years older, he became somewhat
frightened at the idea that something might happen to him
before this dream of Walt's was realized. So the building
was pushed through far too rapidly. It had been planned
and discussed by an architect and by Walt for years, but
then there was no one there to really curb the architect.
Suddenly the plans became infinitely more important than
the program or the kinds of students they were going to
The tragedy, as I look at it, is that here was a great
idea, with a tremendous financial backing, that just had to
have a birth not as a normal six- to nine-pound child, but
as an 800-student-body , full-grown institution. The entire
act of finding staff, searching for heads of departments--
and the whole thing was done without real regard to clear ob-
jectives of what Walt had envisaged, which was a very
simple idea. He said, "As a man that's been involved with
motion pictures, which is a great media, where all of the
arts are used, where we have music, writers, cinematographers ,
cameramen, and all the different crafts, I know, obviously,
that we can hire experts, but they're experts who don't
know anything about the other experts and what they're
really trying to accomplish. Even the director doesn't
always know how to pull these things together." The way
he described it was, "If we had a school where we would set
the level right at the top and wouldn't let anyone in that
didn't have some real ability, where we had schools of
music, of drama, of cinematography, of dance, and of the
graphic and applied arts, all under one roof, as the
students walk from one class to another, passing art
exhibits of students and others, they're hearing music,
and they're living in the dormitories with people that
are in all the arts." The way he put it was, "Who knows
what kind of a form will eventually come out of such an
experience in the creation of a whole new concept of
cinematography and the motion picture as we know it today?"
Well, that was his dream. Though I said it and a few
other people who knew Walt said it very strongly, over and
over again, that's a hard thing for people that don't under-
stand to really comprehend the importance of. So the first
thing they did was to find a man who was very excellent in
the field of drama and who had had a lot of college and
university administrative ability and experience, and they
hired him. Then he listened real hard to each of the
people that he wanted to hire in the various fields, and
there was absolutely no unity to the concept at all. On
top of that, he hired a dean that just put a ring in the
director's nose and jerked him at will all over the place.
The school got off to such a bad start that it almost blew
up in the second year, after spending over $20 million.
Another terrible tragedy was that the board sat there and
voted to spend about $17 million of the $20 million for
capital expenditure, which made no sense at all. It did
build buildings that could house 800 people, but it didn't
provide most of the vital things: endowment for the staff,
endowment for the program, to assure it in any sense. It's
been a pickup game ever since. Even though the family has
put another $20 million in, it still needs a great deal of
money for scholarships, for staff, and for all the other
things that are involved in running a big institution.
Now, if they had started out in a totally different
way, if they had started out with, say, two or three
disciplines, maybe an art school and perhaps a music school
or maybe one more, and built a part of a master plan, and
had perhaps twenty-five absolutely top students, the most
brilliant young people they could find, of any age--I don't
give a damn how old they are — and start a school on quality,
and then in another three years or four years added another
area, and had grown like that — the money would have been
there drawing a tremendous income — they could have had a
school of strength. It's a tragedy to see people hiring
people to run any department who don't really know what it
is that that department is supposed to do.
I finally resigned from the board less than a year ago.
I spent, altogether, about eight years, some of those years
discussing the school with Walt Disney and with other people,
Long before he even wanted to have a board formed, we spent
a tremendous amount of time talking about this project. It
was very clear in his mind and certainly in my mind what he
had wanted to create . I saw them about to hire a man to
head the art department as bad as the one who had been
there before, and it became almost a confrontation problem,
again, between myself and the director, who I have a great
deal of admiration for. I think he's a very bright man.
but I don't think anyone else I've ever met can know all
there is to know about music and cinematography and drama
and the graphic and applied arts and the dance. There's
so much theory mixed into all of it. I interviewed one
of the prospective appointees for head of the art depart-
ment, and I thought he was not only a charming man but that
he had a tremendous amount of feeling about art, so it
wasn't a personal distaste for him on my part. But when
I asked him some very simple questions about how he felt
a department should be organized, what he felt were the
basic requirements to insure a proper end product, it was
the same old laissez-faire attitude: bring them in here;
let them get around the people; it will all work out. And
it doesn't work out. I think if Walt were alive today, he
would be shocked as hell at what the institute is doing.
Now, I think this is not as true, certainly, in music.
I have a very strong feeling that music is being well taught
there. I think the drama department, after many difficult
starts and stops, is moving forward very strongly. The
dance has always been good. They've had excellent people.
But now you're talking about disciplines where there's no
bull involved. If you can't dance, if you can't handle
your feet and your body, you aren't going to function.
GOODWIN: There's a built-in discipline.
SHEETS: It's just a built-in discipline. Certainly in
music, unless you know something about your instrument
and the structure of music — sure, some people read by ear,
but it's hardly what you build a school around. In art it
just seems to be the most frustrating thing in the world
to me that anyone who feels they've spent enough time in
the vicinity of art are automatically experts who know
everything that needs to be known about how you train
people to find out who they are. You can't find out who
you are until you have enough discipline back of you.
The fear of discipline now is frightening to me as the
philosophy upon which to build an art school.
These are strange days where education can be so
involved in plain theory and not really excited about
where this guy's going, Where's that gal going, what's
she going to do when she gets out of here? They don't
seem to care. I can't believe that that's education.
GOODWIN: You mentioned on one occasion that you're now a
board member of the Art Center School.
SHEETS: Yes, I've just become a. board member. I haven't
had my first board meeting yet.
GOODWIN: Oh. So you can't compare the experience there
to Cal Arts?
SHEETS: No, except by observation and by knowing members
of the board. I think Art Center could easily fall into
this pattern because the pressure is there from students,
though not as much as it was a few years back. But many
students today would rather be very clever and look very
contemporary and look very much with-it than to feel that
they want to get down to the gristle and bone and find out
about something. But I think the tendency of the faculty
is, as I've watched it over the forty years of fifty years
I've been involved, that as an artist matures and develops
a great deal more taste, a great deal more knowledge of
art, a great deal more feeling about art, if they've grown
and continue to grow, it's very hard for them to want to
go back and teach the fundamentals. They're bored by it.
They feel like that is stepping backwards to them. So
they begin to twist the drawings or the paintings, what-
ever it is, into the kind of formula that they're interested
in. The kind of taste that they have, they like to impose
upon students. Now, that's a dreadful mistake, in my
opinion because I don't think anybody is so omnipotent
that they should impose their taste on their students.
Basically what's wrong is it doesn't give a student the
full set of tools from which he can operate with his par-
ticular quality of mind and particular kind of perception
and insight and then fully express himself. Students that
I've known over the years, whether they were in my class
or anyone else's classes, who really learned to understand
structure and other qualities, I don't have to be worried
about. If they have any art in them, it's going to come
out. You can't impose art, except superficially. About
the time they get out of school they begin to get a little
bit sick of art. After a couple of years of frustration
and no chance to move ahead, they drop it. And that's
wrong. That's absolutely wrong.
GOODWIN: Does a good art teacher necessarily have to be
a prominent artist?
SHEETS: Not necessarily. I think that I've known art
teachers who are extraordinary teachers, but I don't think
they're theoreticians. I don't think they're people who
have just studied and looked at art history. I'm speaking
now on the applied side, strictly. I mean there's a com-
plete world of art history and philosophy, which you have
your degree in. I don't have to explain that to you.
There's no quarrel between what you have had as a back-
ground and what I'm talking about.
GOODWIN: Right, I understand that.
SHEETS: I'm talking about a young person who says, "I
would like to be a practicing artist in my lifetime." Now,
I know teachers--I ' ve had some. I think Herbert Jepson was
one of the best examples that I know. Herbert kept avoiding
painting and kept avoiding making even exciting drawings,
which he had obviously the ability to do. But he became
so involved with teaching that he did not become a dis-
tinguished artist in his own right. But as a teacher, I
think he was one of the most effective I've known. He
taught what he knew, and he knew it well, and he taught
it with a great deal of taste. Now, you can't ask more
from anyone than that. I think drawing should be taught
with good taste. But if you're trying to push taste out
beyond knowing how, that's bad. He didn't do that. He
taught damn well. I've known painters who can teach good,
solid, basic discipline that frees a person. But it's
just too bad that we have to have so many aesthetes running
around, all over hell, trying to teach the basic disciplines.
GOODWIN: Well, do you think far too many art professors
are bored being professors, and they only teach as a means
to an end?
SHEETS: I think they teach it partly as an escape, because
they can't make it on the front line. I think that what
you said is also true. I think that they are bored with
the idea that they have to do it to make a living. They
probably should thank their stars--although I don't think
it's good for society — that they have a job because they
couldn't make it otherwise, and that's what's wrong. Why
should people teach who can't produce? Now, I don't mean
that an artist necessarily has to work outside professionally
if he's a fine teacher. There's a tremendous need for a
teacher, and great teachers. I think it's just as important
to be a great teacher certainly as it is to be anything
else--and maybe more important in many ways because you
can touch more lives. But I don't think they should
expect to teach if they can't perform themselves. This
is what I'm talking about. This is what's happening.
And, even at Art Center, I gather from talking to some
of the old staff members over there that I have known for
thirty-five and forty years--they 're very concerned about
this very thing that's happening to a degree in Art Center.
Now, it hasn't happened in Art Center in the same way be-
cause Art Center is so thoroughly oriented to going right
into commercial design and into industrial design that
there's not much chance for nonsense. But if some of the
teachers are going to teach less thoroughly by becoming a
little more concerned only with the aesthetic, then it
irritates the hell out of some of these people that really
know what they're doing. That's happening because a lot
of those people of this generation that are teaching have
never had that serious kind of training.
GOODWIN: Does Art Center represent the opposite extreme,
compared to a school like Otis today, in that it over-
emphasizes the commercial viewpoint and doesn't necessarily
SHEETS: Well, I think Art Center does emphasize fundamen-
tals of technical disciplines. I think that they are
stressing, a little more all the time, aesthetic under-
standing, and certainly design understanding, which is
highly important. It is the design that is the aesthetic
side. But right now when a student or a family having a
young student comes to me and asks, "Where shall I go?"
or "Where shall I send my child?" I'm almost forced to
suggest Art Center today. I have to make it clear that
though it's certainly oriented definitely to the commercial
and the industrial, at least you get some basic training
there, which I can't tell you you're going to get over here
or over here or over here. That's a lousy compromise. It
shouldn't have to be that way.
GOODWIN: Let's end this sequence on an upbeat note. How
do you possibly teach artists imagination, divorced from
SHEETS: No, I don't think you can teach imagination. I
think that you can point out very clearly that the artists
of the world who amount to anything and who've lived through
the various periods of art and who continue to be important
are loaded with feeling and imagination. That's the reason
that their work lasts. It isn't because they have only the
technical skills. Real imagination is freed, if you study
the history of art, by the most disciplined process of
learning how to observe and to perceive. The more one
studies the facts of life and the realities of structure
and the unbelievable nuances of color in life in every
aspect, the more your imagination has a chance to grow and
to blossom. You cannot conjure up what you haven't exper-
ienced. There's no way, in my opinion. The more you dig
into a subject, the more you begin to let your mind go and
fly. It's the most wonderful thing to me to watch, as I
have watched so many young people, who have gone through
what looks like these disciplines, and suddenly they're
moving way out into space over there because this direction
made it possible for them to do that, this direction of
digging into the facts. You can't teach people to paint
imaginatively if they can't paint. You can say, "You
mustn't think that after you've painted every eyelash on
the butterfly and petal on the blossom, that that's the
answer. If you can do that, then maybe you can do some-
thing, if you have any ideas. Or if you've got some
feeling or if you have some imagination, you can express
it." I mean, that's the way it has to be put to them,
because that's the way it ends up being. People in art
who have had great imagination are people who weren't ever
stopped for one minute because they didn't know how to
paint or draw or design. They're people who were masters
of their craft, and that's why their imagination can soar,
[tape recorder turned off]
GOODWIN: We're going to discuss mural painting now. If
I remember correctly, your first exposure was as a student
with Tolles Chamberlain at Chouinard.
SHEETS: Right. I didn't even know what the word mural
meant. I didn't know it was as simple as a thing like a
wall. But when Tolles Chamberlain stimulated the interest
of several of us in the murals of the past, we began to
experiment. We had an old back wall where we painted
pretty bad attempts toward mural painting right there in
the school. Then a series of things just seemed to open
up. I was given a chance to do some very large panels in
a new beach club down south of Long Beach — I guess it's
Seal Beach now. I was very excited and talked Phil Dike
into helping me with these murals, and we did about ten
panels. I guess it was really one of the first jobs,
although I'd done one, I think, in the YMCA in Pasadena
before that and two or three other small murals. This was
the first thing that was, in a real public sense, a mural
commission. We worked in oil on canvas because that was
about the only thing we knew in those days.
Then, just after the crash of '29 — I had come back
from Europe and I was happily married at that point, 1930 —
I was given a very large commission to do some murals for
the Hollywood Savings and Loan. That was a savings and
loan that was part of the great Beesmeyer group. The
Hollywood Bank, the Hollywood Savings and Loan, and several
other big financial institutions were part of a big combine,
As laws have been passed since that time, it would be
impossible to have such failure. I worked very hard on
those murals and hired three or four men to work with me,
because there was a time problem involved and the panels
were large. It was the whole history of the motion picture,
which of course was in its infancy to a degree in those
days. But we painted them as they were then. The week
before I finished the murals, the crash really came, and
not only was the Hollywood Savings and Loan unable to pay
my bill, which was about 8 percent of the whole contract —
and I'd been paying labor out for months with what little
I could get together in those days — but my bank account was
in the Hollywood Bank. What little money I had in the
Hollywood Bank was frozen, all the same day. If you don't
think that was a dark Friday .... But, in any case, I
owned the murals, and they were pretty valueless to me. I
remember to this day that two of the fellows that worked
for me sued me for the last $200 apiece that they had
coming. And they knew that I didn't have the $200, not
having been paid for the job. Long before it ever went to
court, I borrowed the money and paid them off, but I thought
it was a really strange thing when they knew the whole
Then I had a chance to do three big frescoes in the
South Pasadena Junior High School. It was the most
beautiful new school, designed by Powell and Powell. The
principal of that high school (Derwood Baker) was an
extremely forward-looking person and knew something about
me and something about the fact that I'd painted some
murals. He decided he would like to raise the money
privately to paint two frescoes in a courtyard. I had
done this work with Siqueiros that I mentioned earlier
and had done a few small frescoes. But I worked practically
every night for a whole year, with one assistant. We did
our own plastering, and we did these two big panels. We
did one on agriculture; we did one on industry. They're
all figurative and very large. It was probably technically
one of the best things I ever did in my life. They were
true fresco, true Italian fresco — all transparent, no white
except the white in the plaster. We'd had a very exciting
time doing them, and I think the students were tremendously
excited and moved by these murals because they saw them
actually emerge slowly. Every night they saw a little bit
more. As you know, in frescoes when you paint, you have
to plaster the wall with a very dry plaster, and you can
work on it up to a certain point, the point when it
oxidizes; then it will no longer receive water or the pig-
ment, and you're through. If you aren't through, you have
to scratch off what you've done. Well, we had quite a few
bad evenings during the rainy season, although we had it
covered well enough with canvases and so forth. We could
keep fairly warm, but it was a pretty cool experience
working out there night after night. We'd start right
after a normal day's work and work until midnight or two
in the morning for almost a year.
The saddest thing happened after that. They were so
well received, and the students and everybody liked them.
They were well known at that time — we're talking about
1930 and '31, because it was before I went to Scripps.
I mentioned to the head custodian of the school, a
marvelous elderly man, that there was a way of water-
proofing fresco if it did get a tremendous amount of water
on it. I had read about it, but I had never tried it. He
was worried about the elements, whether the rain and so
forth would do it damage over a period of time. It was
on the north wall, and it was enclosed in a court, and
though there wasn't much of an overhang, I don't really
think anything would have really eventually hurt them.
But I had read in a very proper book that if you took pure
castile soap and made a certain solution — practically non-
existent as far as soap was concerned; it's just like 1:500
or l:1000--if that's painted on the mural, that that produced
a permanent waterproofing process without in any way touching
the color, or hurting it, or making it in any way other than
the way it was. But I said that's something we should con-
sider maybe five years from now, if there's any sense of
this thing happening.
Well, without ever discussing it with the principal
or with me, and with the best of intentions, he destroyed
the murals. He mixed a very heavy solution that must have
looked like poster paint when he put it on, and it completely
destroyed the murals. It looked like someone had been pouring
milk on them for months. The color was destroyed. You'd
get certain images through, but it was absolutely beyond
belief. I didn't know this. I never heard a thing about
it. The principal changed, and he unfortunately didn't
call me. Because if he'd called me, I don't know whether
there was anything we could have done, but there might
have been something we could have done. But he didn't call
me. Some general custodian of all the buildings decided
the thing was just to paint over them, so they painted over
them with cement paint, and I didn't know that for fifteen
years. It was fifteen years later that they called me back
and asked if there was any way of removing this cement.
Well, we had two experts dig into it, and we found
that even though we could remove the cement probably with
a great deal of cost, by picking at it with a small scalpel
for months, that the thing had been so destroyed underneath
that there was no value in it. That was a real disappoint-
ment, and the terrible thing is that I only have two very
poor little black-and-white photographs of these things
even as a matter of record. That was a sad experience,
and I never had any other like that.
After that experience I started painting murals in
various banks. When the big fair ^(Golden Gate Exposition,
1940] was held in San Francisco, just before the war
started, I did something like 20,000 square feet of murals
for four different projects. One major job was for the
exposition itself. I did six enormous panels, with big
arches at the top, sort of a history of San Francisco idea.
Then I did two jobs, one for the L.A. Chamber of Commerce,
a huge mural; I think it was 100 feet long and 30 feet high.
It went around a half of a circle in a building, in a huge
room. I can't even remember all of the ones we did because
most of those were taken down after the exposition. Though
they are placed somewhere, I don't know where they are.
They were all on canvas and mounted so they could be
But that's when I really discovered the problem of
managing a lot of people who were helping me and running
into labor problems for the first time. I got up there to
hang them, and they wouldn't let us touch them. We had to
go through the labor unions in San Francisco, which were
very tough compared to anything down here in those days.
That's now reached here, so we're getting into the same
thing all over. But it was a great experience because
there was about two-and-a-half years' work where I was
deeply involved with every facet of planning, designing,
executing, business relations, labor union relations, and
then physically getting everything up. It was a good
TAPE NUMBER: VII, SIDE TWO
JANUARY 6, 1977
GOODWIN: Diego Rivera was working for the San Francisco
SHEETS: Yes, he did the big job at the stock exchange,
and also he did a beautiful panel at the San Francisco
Art Institute. Have you ever seen that?
GOODWIN: Yes, it's thrilling.
SHEETS: That's a beautiful painting. That was at his best
period, that and the things earlier, the ones I told you
about (or we discussed at least) , the Palace of Education
in Mexico, which very few people see. It's the most
extensive job he ever did, except that final one in the
main palace [Palacio Nacional] , but that became more
illustrative. In the Palace of Education, there must be
four major courts and at least twenty panels in each court.
They're probably twenty-five feet high and ten or twelve
feet wide. They're magnificent. They're the most brilliant
things in color I've ever seen him do and extremely beautiful
fresco technique all the way through. He's an amazing
artist. The last things don't reflect that at all. But
the fact that the Mexicans did come up here and Orozco
came up and did Prometheus at Pomona College gave a boost
to the whole idea of painting murals. And of course the
PWA project during the Depression was of great importance.
We haven't discussed that, have we?
SHEETS: Well, I was on the committee in charge of the PWA
project in Southern California, and that was a great exper-
ience for me. I was young, but I was asked by Edward Bruce
in Washington, who was a painter that I had known; along
with Merle Armitage , who was the chairman; and Dal Hatfield,
who was my dealer. But that isn't the reason I was asked
to serve. Bruce knew all of us, and he knew that we knew
the artists, so originally there were three of us. We
received wires one morning. It was on a Friday. We were
to put 100 artists to work by Monday night. Well, of
course that couldn't be done, but it was a very exciting
thing. The three of us met, and we added two more people
to our committee, and we really went to work combing the
names of all of the artists who we knew that were operating
in Southern California who had both the capacity to do
things of importance and who also probably needed help.
It took us about a week, but we did get seventy-five or
eighty artists working within a week.
We had some of the most distinguished names in American
painting. Many who were living here then moved away, of
course, and lived in other parts of the country. There
were some very distinguished guys and gals. Lorser
Feitelson and his present wife [Helen Lundeberg] were on
the project. We had at least thirty artists that were
competent mural painters.
So the first thing we did was to sit down with the
artists individually, and we offered them many opportunities.
We were running like mad in every direction. We were going
to schools, we were going to various public buildings, and
asking if they would be willing to have a mural painted, if
we did it through this project. And of course a lot of them
didn't even know what a mural was, and it took a long time
to correlate the ability that these artists had with the
possibilities. But eventually we had things in practically
all the public buildings here, done by very distinguished
Many of these things are still up and are very attractive,
A lot of them have been removed because the buildings have
been torn down or for other reasons. But it was a vital,
wonderful program. It lasted about two and a half years.
During that time we had people, of course, doing graphics;
they were painting; there was lots of sculpture. We did
tremendous numbers of big sculpture projects in parks, and
a lot of the things that are sprinkled all around Southern
California were done during that time, as far away as San
Diego and as far north as Santa Barbara, and all over this
part of the country.
GOODWIN: Were there many artists who were excluded because
they weren ' t good enough?
SHEETS: The only competent artists that were excluded
were those that didn't need help. The PWA project was
designed to really assist people who needed financial help
during that period. Many of the artists had had a very
decent income, a very decent job in some instances, and
a lot of those things disappeared. They really were having
a hard time to support a family.
GOODWIN: What kind of payment did the artists receive?
SHEETS: Well, I'd have to look that up. It was adequate,
but it was certainly not extravagant. It would be probably
not unlike what Russia pays its artists in relation to
their society — maybe not as good, because in Russia today,
an artist, once he or she is approved in the city, has an
income which is probably close to about $500, which is a
lot of money in Russia, or was when I was there sixteen
years ago. I don't know whether it is today. I think
that these artists received in the neighborhood of $500
or $400 a month, which in those days was a great deal of
money. It was adequate. They were given money for materials,
and we bought the materials, I think, largely through the
project, the canvas and the oils or whatever the materials
were for whatever mural or sculptural project. But there
must have been at least 150 major projects executed during
that time .
GOODWIN : Did you do any of them?
SHEETS: No. No. I worked the whole time trying to get
places to paint, and then we met with the artists at least
three mornings a week, which took a tremendous amount of my
GOODWIN: Where was the program headquartered?
SHEETS: We rented a vacant building on Seventh Street,
not too far from Lafayette Park. We had a good-sized office
there and enough storage space so we could store a lot of
material and store a lot of the paintings. As the paintings
would come in, we'd distribute them to schools and to various
public buildings. Whereas I never received any money for
working for the project — we were not paid as administrators
at all--I did do a couple of large lithographs, colored
lithographs, which I gave. We printed like 500 each, and
I keep running into these things at schools and places.
They were done way back in the thirties. I was able to
get quite a few artists to give some very important things,
sometimes an actual painting, sometimes a piece of sculpture.
All of us who didn't have to have that income — and I don't
mean to suggest that I had any money; I was pretty broke in
the Depression. We were having babies, but we had an
adequate amount to live on. I took time away from Scripps
and, in the early days, Chouinard to do this work, but it
was a great experience.
GOODWIN: Was there a neighborhood where artists tended
to live in those days, or were they spread out?
SHEETS: Los Angeles has always been too spread out. There
was quite a group around [Stanton] MacDonald-Wright, who
worked up in the North Broadway area. There were a lot of
studios where all the Civic Center now is. There was a
bunch of old, interesting buildings, and many artists lived
in that area, and they had studios there. MacDonald-Wright
had classes up on Broadway in a building. There were dance
studios up there, and I mean real dance studios, not just
where some guy goes to dance. There were little smatterings
here and there in Hollywood. There were a few up around,
oh, let's see, that park between Sunset and Temple, Echo
Park, near the old Aimee Semple McPherson temple [Angelus
Temple Church of the Foursquare Gospel] . There were quite
a lot of artists that lived right around in there. But
there wasn't really a center like New York. The city's
so spread out.
GOODWIN: It sounds, though, that there was a greater
feeling of camaraderie then than today?
SHEETS: The PWA project during the Depression certainly
did create a lot of opportunity for artists to meet. About
the only other things that brought artists together were
the old California Art Club and the old California Water-
color Society. The California Art Club was more of a
social club than anything else, although they did have
an exhibit every year. The Watercolor Society didn't have
social meetings, but they were a good society, very young,
and there weren't many members. I am one of the very early
members of that, and the older people in it were very good
watercolor painters, like Vysekal and a whole group that
had started it. It was a nice group, a national society.
But the PWA gave all the artists an opportunity, who prob-
ably wouldn't have seen each other and had much to do with
one another, a chance to get together. Fletcher Martin is
the man I was trying to think of who did some very important
things in the federal building or state building, I've for-
gotten which. I think it was the federal building.
Leo Katz was an artist who was living here who had
been very famous in New York. He's since died. Of course,
he was in his sixties then. He was a very strong, almost
heroic, painter and lithographer. He did a couple of big
One of the most modern of all of the painters in New
York, one of the most exciting contemporary painters, was
in this group. There were four or five of them that worked
as a team, and he was one of those. I can't think of his
There were problems, too, because a few of the artists
wanted to be political. There's no question but what in
every group you get a few that are more concerned about
the political side of their expression than about the other
sides, the mural side or the decorative side. We ran into
that as a real problem because within the government, back
in Washington, we were told very strongly that this could
not be a vehicle for real communism or any other kind of
specialism. If an artist was a communist, that wasn't any
reason we shouldn't put him on the payroll, but he wasn't
to paint communistic murals. Well, we had a few almost
knock-down-drag-outs with two or three — only two or three--
but it got pretty rough one time.
I remember we had one fellow who had a great deal of
ability, but he was obnoxious as hell. He hated everybody —
not just the committee, he hated other artists. He didn't
think anybody else was an artist. I remember this great
guy. Merle Armitage, who wore no man's collar. He was a
very independent cuss himself and patient up to a point.
We had, I think, three meetings with this fellow and he
kept being more and more obnoxious. He developed a little
more of that each time. Finally he came in the third time,
and Merle had said this was the last time we were going to
reason with him. The fellow started a tirade all over again
about the fact that he thought he should be allowed to do
any damn thing he wanted to do. Merle said, "Well, my
friend, I'll tell you, when there's a cancer you get a
knife and you cut it out." He said, "You've just been
amputated." It was really funny the way he did it at that
time. It probably wouldn't seem as funny now. He really
meant it, and the artist was amputated. But basically
they were marvelous.
Some teams came out of the project that were quite
interesting, people that hadn't known too much about each
other. One of the greatest guys, of course, without any
question, was Lorser Feitelson, because he had been a
teacher long enough and he had been an artist long enough.
He'd painted all over Europe. He knew his way around, and
he was not afraid to try anything. He took on, happily,
several young people, young artists who hadn't been out of
art school too long. Without really dictating to them, he
put them under his wing and helped a lot of them learn a
hell of a lot. He literally was teaching while they were
working. They were not married at that time, but his wife,
Helen Lundeberg , who paints under her own name, of course,
was doing some perfectly beautiful projects of her own.
Jean and Arthur Ames did a fabulous couple of mosaics down
at Newport Beach. They were extremely competent, and they
worked so well and so beautifully together. Later, when
Jean came to teach for me at Scripps, they decided to get
married in order to move to Claremont. But there were a
lot of interesting teams that came out of that whole period,
people who hadn't worked together before, and I think it was
a very good thing. I don't think all the art that came out
of it was great, but I think it was a marvelous, timely
thing. It was certainly better for an artist than to go
work on a road project or something else, which so many
people were doing at the same time.
It's hard for you to really visualize at your age what
the Depression was like. It was a discouraging period to
most people. They didn't know where to turn. I think the
start with this project was so fast due to Edward Bruce,
who was a great friend of the president. He was a famous
lawyer and a very good artist in his own right. You prob-
ably don't know his work because he wasn't known out here
very much. But Edward Bruce was a very competent painter,
and he was very close to Roosevelt. He persuaded Roosevelt
and the then-head of the Treasury Department that this was
a good idea. He just reached out and tapped all of his
friends all over the country to set up these different
organizations, and almost overnight they did — I don't know
how many centers, at least eight or ten, maybe more. When
you think of starting to paint murals all within about a
month, right on walls, it was quite an undertaking. We
had very limited means, but I think it was great. Out of
it came a lot of good painters, all over the United States,
not certainly just here — painters that I know very well,
that I've known all my life, that I didn't know worked on
that project. Henry Varnum Poor and, gosh, I can't even
begin to tell you the people. It was a marvelous period.
GOODWIN: What was the next step in your mural painting?
SHEETS: Well, I think it grew out of the Home Savings
development, because it was the first time that I'd ever
had an opportunity to be so deeply involved with the
combination of the mural and the building. Just as an
aside, I think that probably in the history of our country,
there's never been an equal opportunity for any other
artist than what I've had in this Home Savings relationship.
It's a commercial enterprise, obviously a free enterprise,
designed to make a profit. Due to the fluke of a peculiar
relationship between [Howard] Ahmanson and myself, we
started the first buildings.
I had never even heard of Mr. Ahmanson, and one day
in the mail I received a letter. It was written almost
like a telegram. It said: "Dear Sheets. Saw photograph
building you designed, L.A. Times . Liked it. I have two
valuable properties, Wilshire Boulevard, need buildings.
Have driven Wilshire Boulevard twenty-six years, know year
every building built, names of most architects, bored. If
interested in doing a building that will look good thirty-
five or forty years from now when I'm not here, call me."
That was the most amazing letter I ever received. Well, I
called him, and I could tell you some delightful stories
about the first meeting.
GOODWIN: Go ahead.
SHEETS: Well, I called him up and said, "This is Mr. Sheets
calling." He just said, "Interested?" I said, "Well, it
certainly sounds interesting." "Do you ever get hungry?"
"Well, yes, normally, about noon." "Lunch tomorrow?" I
said, "Great." He said, "My address is so-and-so and so-
and-so," and he hung up.
Well, I didn't know what the hell I was getting into,
but I went to this place down on South Spring Street. I
parked next to the number of the building he gave me. He
said it was top floor. I went upstairs in the most rickety
elevator I have ever been on. I wasn't sure I was going to
get to the top, but I got there and stepped right out into
the worst sweatshop I have ever seen in my life. I've seen
in the garment areas things that look so much better, where,
at least, there was space for a human being to move. This
was a sea of desks and confusion like I've never seen in my
life and the most miserable lighting. Eventually a lady
came over and asked me if I was Mr. Sheets. I said yes,
being the only foreign-looking person in the place. She
said, "Follow me." Well, following her meant weaving
through a bunch of desks, turning sideways (and I was
skinny in those days), and slithering along, and eventually
getting around through a kind of figure-8 pattern to a door
into an office, which she opened, and I went in.
I saw a man sitting in his shirtsleeves, his feet up
on his desk, with a telephone, and he just nodded to a so-
called sofa. Well, in my life I have never sat on a sofa
like this. It was the old-fashioned kind that had loose
springs that hadn't been tied. The least you'd get is a
good goose out of one. I sat down, and I hit bottom
instantly. The room was covered with plaster that had
been so long up there that there were holes in it. It
was a sherbet green of natural-colored plaster which had
not been painted. The lighting in the room was ghastly,
and the drapes were terrible. The desk had a hole in it
where his feet had been, I thought, what kind of a gooney
bird have I gotten myself with here? What is this, anyway?
In addition to that, he sat there and talked for thirty
minutes. He had never more than acknowledged the fact that
I arrived. I sat there, and I didn't know whether or not
to get up and leave, but this conversation went on and on
and on. It seemed to be very involved with business, and
it didn't make any difference to him that I was waiting.
Finally he hung up suddenly and stood up, reached back on
an old coatrack, pulled his coat off, and put it on, and
said, "Let's go." He didn't even say hi. Now we've got
to go through the figure-8 again, and we go through all
that same mess. We go back on the same elevator, down to
the bottom. I don't know where we're going, I suppose some
little joint on Spring Street. We walk around to the same
parking lot where I parked, and here's the most beautiful,
big, overgrown Cadillac I've ever seen, with a nice, colored
chauffeur. We get in the back seat, and he started out
towards Beverly Hills.
I still don't know where we're going — he didn't say —
but we started a conversation that was so exciting. He
never discussed anything about the buildings at any time
and I certainly didn't. He didn't discuss anything about
the fact that I was an artist or why I was with him. We
just started on subjects that became more and more inter-
esting during the entire afternoon. We had a beautiful
lunch at the Beverly Hills Club. A lot of his friends
came by. I was introduced to them, they'd walk away after-
wards, and the conversation would go right back to wnere it
was. Neither of us knew that we'd reached five o'clock. I
suddenly looked at my watch, and I had had a three o'clock
appointment and nearly fainted. I knew this was a real job
[laughter] and I couldn't care about that appointment. Oh,
I nearly died. I said, "Mr. Ahmanson, I'm terribly sorry
but I've got to go. I've got to get to a telephone
immediately." Well, of course, the people I was to meet
had gone; they weren't in their office after five o'clock.
So he said, "Well, I missed one, too. I was supposed to be
someplace at three-thirty." With that we go out and get in
his car, and we're driving down Wilshire Boulevard, coming
east towards Los Angeles from Beverly. As we go by a certain
block, without even looking, he just takes his finger and he
says, "That's one of them." Then we go on clear down this
side of Western Avenue and, "That's another one." That's
all he said.
We got down to the parking lot, and all this time
there's never been one word about a building. I want to
tell you it was one of the most exciting afternoons I've
ever had. We talked about everything. I couldn't tell
you now what we talked about, but I know it was like
hundreds of conversations I had with Howard after that.
He was one of the best-read men I've ever known. He read
every night until two or three in the morning. He couldn't
sleep, and he just read. He was a very exciting guy, if you
had him alone. In a crowd, he became a totally different
human being. He became more pompous, and he became a little
more braggadocio about his success and so forth. There
wasn't an inkling of that in this original conversation.
We got into the parking lot, and he said, "Your car
here?" I said, "Yes, it's right there." He said, "Do you
think you could put up with me?" I said, "Well, I don't
know what you mean." He said, "Well, do you think you
could put up with me to do a building or two?" I said, "I
sure can. It doesn't seem to me like it would be very
difficult because you've put up with me." He said, "All
right, that settles it. I want you to understand something
now: I don't want you to telephone me ever. I do not wish
to discuss these buildings with you. I'm going to let you
do one, and if it's right then we'll do the other one." I
said, "Well, Mr. Ahraanson, we've got to discuss budgets.
I haven't even discussed fees." He said, "You'll be fair
with me, and I'll be fair with you. The budget — that's up
to what you build. You build it like you were building it
for yourself." I said, "I can't take that responsibility;
no way I can do that." He said, "Well, then you're not
going to do the job." I said, "I don't even know anything
about the function. I don't even know what kind of a
building it is." He said, "I have plenty of people who
can give you that information, but now listen, don't you
let them tell you how to design this building. If you
want to know how many bodies there have to be in the room
and what they do, fine. But don't you talk design to any-
one. I want nobody connected with it. I haven't got a
guy in my organization that knows anything about this.
And I don't. And I want it done the way you would do it
if you were doing it for yourself."
"Well," I said, "I've got to think about that."
Really, I almost shook all the way driving back to Claremont.
It was so utterly unusual. I'd done several buildings for
commercial people, and we'd always set budgets. I'd studied
the problems and presented the solutions, and then we dis-
cussed whether we could do what they wanted within the
budget. Well, none of that with him, no way.
I finally called him one day, and I said, "Now, I have
three different solutions, just as preliminary ideas for
this building. Would you be willing to look at these three
and even say you had a preference?" He said, "Well, okay,
okay." I took three sketches in of this first building,
and I set them down on this god-awful floor in this god-
awful office, and he looked at them. He walked up and down
the room for forty minutes, and he never said a word, not
one word. There wasn't a frown or a smile. He just
absolutely walked up and down. Finally, he went over, and
he picked up the telephone, and he called his wife. He
said, "I'm looking at the goddamnedest building." He
said, "It's just going to be great." He wouldn't tell
me — he told her. He said, "I can't wait for you to see
it. It's going to be just exactly what I wanted." He
went on and on and on, and he talked to her for forty
minutes. Well, it was pleasant, but it was a little
embarrassing, too. Finally he said, "Well, could I borrow
that sketch tonight, and I'll get it back to you tomorrow?"
IlaughterJ I said, "Which one?" He said, "That one." He
never hesitated over what he wanted, and he took it home.
He sent it out special delivery the next day to Claremont,
sent a guy out with it, and with instructions that I was
to talk to so-and-so for my information.
I went in and talked to this fellow [Kenneth Childs]
four or five times and did get a lot of information. I
found out it was an insurance company and a few other
things, and I went ahead with it. When it was ready to
let the contract, I called this same guy and I said, "Well,
the building is all set, and the contract is ready to go."
He said, "Fire." I said, "Well, don't you want to know
anything about it?" He said, "It wouldn't make any
difference to me. It's what the boss wants."
So we built the building. I got down to the middle
of construction, and on my sketch I had suggested some
sculpture and one mosaic and so forth. By this time I
knew I wanted a certain man to do the sculpture, and I
was going to do the mosaic, but there were some other things
involved, too. I had a budget for what the art was going
to cost. Of course up to this time I always thought of art
being completely separate, outside the regular budget, as
it always was presented to me by any architect and by any
client I'd ever dealt with. So I called him up. He finally
answered the phone, and I said, "Mr. Ahmanson, I know that
you've asked me not to bother you, but I have a really vital
decision that I think you are the only one to make. If you
remember on that little sketch that you saw, I just indicated
sculpture and so forth. I have now all the costs on the
entire art part of this job, and the cost will be so much,
and I want your approval before I spend that money because
part of it — the mosaic, of course — will be coming to me."
We were cut off the phone, cut off the line. I called right
back, and his secretary answered, and I said, "I was dis-
cussing the building with Mr. Ahmanson, and we were cut
off. May I talk to him again?" She said, "Mr. Sheets,
you were not cut off. He hung up. He said to tell you if
you called back that this is your problem." At that point
I thought, well, to hell with you, we'll do it.
GOODWIN: Right. [laughter]
SHEETS: So we went at it, and we did it.
GOODWIN: What was the additional cost?
SHEETS: Oh, it was nothing in those days — I think $37,000
for all of the art, which was a tremendous amount of
sculpture. Oh, boy.
Anyway, when the building was finished and we were
taking the bullworks down, the wall along the street to
protect the pedestrians from your building and so forth,
it was on a Friday morning. I was planning to call him
that afternoon for a Saturday morning walk-through, because
he told me he wanted a turnkey job. The telephone rang in
the job office. I practically lived in that job office on
that job, and I had beaten everybody's ears down on costs.
He knew what he was doing. I saved so much money on that
building by making people think they were lucky to be part
of it. The telephone rang about eleven o'clock in the
morning, and I answered it, and he said, "Sheets?" I
said, "Yes." He said, "This is Howard." He said, "Why
didn't you tell me you were taking those barricades down?"
"Well," I said, "we aren't done with them. We're just
taking them down, and I had planned this afternoon to call
you and see if I could make a date with you tomorrow morning
or Monday morning, whichever was most convenient." He said,
"I'll be there in five minutes." In five minutes he drove
through the rear entrance into the most beautiful garden.
I had moved trees that were thirty-five and forty years
old. I had planted lawn by the method where you move turf.
The place looked like it had been there for fifty years.
There was a great court in the back where all the employees
could go out and have lunch, with a beautiful fountain.
There was a suite of offices for him and a boardroom.
which was separate entirely from the big operation of the
insurance company because he was handling many different
organizations at the time. Then there was space for the
operation of the insurance company as well as a lounge for
all of the secretaries.
He drove in the back and parked exactly where I
designed for him to park. He got out of his car and stood
there, and his eyes just turned. You've never seen the
intensity with which he swept that whole courtyard. Then
he moved forward about twenty feet and looked down into
the sunken part of it, looked at it, turned to me, no
smiles, no anything, just blank, said, "Where do we start?"
Well, I thought we had already started, but anyway I took
him back through the rear entrance, which I designed really
for him, so he wouldn't have to go out through the main
office. I took him into the boardroom, where I had the
most beautiful fireplace and a sculpture as an integral
part of the fireplace, marvelous furniture, and a special
table that I designed and had built. I took him into his
offices. I even had beautiful models of fire engines made
that cost me two or three thousand dollars apiece. I just
wanted to make this so personal to him. And, oh, I bought
one of the greatest Japanese screens, one I wish I owned
myself today, that I hung in the boardroom. I did every-
thing as he had said, "For me." He goes over to his desk,
which was, boy, it was a Cadillac of desks. I designed
every inch of it, and it had been built by Coliombia Showcase
He goes over, sits down in this big chair, puts his
feet right smack up in the middle of that desk, and he just
sat there. It was forty-five or fifty minutes that he kept
looking around. There were beautiful recessed cases for
some of his yachting trophies and so forth. He just roamed
around there, no word, no excitement, no disdain, no "yes,"
no "no." Finally he got up and asked, "Where do we go next?"
We went through the whole building like that, a step at a
Finally we went out to what I thought was the most
exciting entrance to the building, the entrance lobby.
I had sculptured grills and all kinds of things. He looked
it all over, every inch of it, walked out the front door,
looked along the street, walked across the street, leaned
up against a lamppost and started to laugh. By this time
I'm mad. It was two and a half hours from the time that
guy had arrived; it was almost two o'clock in the afternoon.
He hadn't said one kind word, and he started to laugh. I
thought, well, you laughing son of a bitch, it's no laughing
matter if you'd spent a year and a quarter on a project,
and this is the reaction. He turned to me and he said,
"Millard, you know, I thought a lot of times when the bills
came in on this building that I was a little whimsical when
I said, 'Do it the way you want to do it for yourself.'
But I want to tell you something." He said, "I am so
crazy about it, but that is only half of it. This is
going to make money, which 1 didn't plan." I said, "What
do you mean it's going to make money?" He said, "This is
going to sell insurance." I said, "Well, okay, but if you
like it, it's okay." He said, "I'm crazy about it. Start
the other one tomorrow." Well, that was our relationship
for so many years that it was really incredible. And of
course that's when I discovered that if you design a
building that requires art, they would have to use it.
SHEETS: Secondly, he had the sense to know that it was
going to make business. Neither of us could believe the
attention that that little piddling building got. It was
on Wilshire Boulevard, and unfortunately we had to tear it
down when we built the big Ahmanson Center. There was no
way of explaining how the public reacted to that damn
building. It was incredible. It was in all the magazines;
it got awards, everything. It was just crazy.
So when we finished the next one, in the first ten
days after it opened, $19 million walked in the front
SHEETS: The use of that money paid for the entire building-
the property, the furnishings, the landscaping, all of the
art — in the first ten days; it more than paid for it. The
longest that any of those Ahmanson buildings have taken
to pay for themselves is six months. That's the longest.
GOODWIN: How many have you done since?
SHEETS: About forty.
SHEETS: So it is not an accident. I mean there's no
question but that the public responds to a kind of
presence, if you can create it. Now I have no illusions
about how good they are. I can tell you more about what's
wrong with my buildings than any other person in the world.
I can take the gaff that the architects and a lot of other
people throw at me because, number one, I've never compro-
mised, ever, on any building I've ever done. If they're
bad, it's my fault, not Mr. Ahmanson ' s or Home Savings or
anybody's else. I design them for a purpose, and I design
them with the best taste that I can put in them. I get
the best artists that I can, although I can't always get
the ones that I want. I know there's a challenge and that
it's the reaction of the public that's important. The
reaction has been so extravagantly good, in terms that
people just like to be identified with the buildings,
they like to go there and see the art; they like to feel
that it's a different flavor than they usually get. Now,
of course, there's been more and more of it done since we
did it in those early days, as there will be more and
more. But I think the astounding thing is that for
twenty-seven years, even after Howard's death nine or ten
years ago, the company has gone right on with the same
idea. That's why I say I don't think in the history of
this country have there ever been an opportunity for an
artist to do what I've been able to do without trying to
sell anything or in any way trying to do anything except
what the client really wants. They need it. They know it.
There isn't any question about it.
This, of course, led to so many exciting things, such
as the development of a regular staff to do stained glass,
which we do in Pasadena. To keep the number of artists
that have been involved in these buildings that I've done
going full time with years of work ahead, with no question
about whether they have a job or not, it's a pretty exciting
thing that I've been able to do. The number of incredible
commissions that I've been able to give artists all over
the United States, not only for Howard Ahmanson but for the
banks in Texas and other places that I've done work, is
amazing, always because people traveling to California
saw these things, got in touch with me, and said, "We
need this down here," "We need this down there." One down
here leads you to another place and another place. I've
never solicited a job, ever.
It isn't because they're that good. It's because
we've tried to create something that people would feel
excited about being connected with. That's the only basis
that can explain it. Howard and I were the most shocked
of all, in both instances, by the response to the first
two buildings. Then Home began to put out questionnaires.
They said on the questionnaires, "Why do you choose Home
Savings?" Well, a small percent, I would say maybe 8 per-
cent of people, ever answered questionnaires; but out of
the percentage that did answer it, 90 percent said, "Your
buildings look like you're a solid company. Your buildings
have a feeling that we enjoy. We're proud to bank in your
buildings." Now, you can't knock it. When some of the
architects call them mausoleums, fine. Don't they wish
they had a client that lasted twenty-seven years and went
on and on supporting what they did?
We're starting a whole new thing now that is going to
come out pretty soon. For twenty-five years at least. Home
Savings has given around $20,000 a year to San Francisco
and Los Angeles for their big art festivals. Well, those
things have been so badly run in most instances in the last
ten years that they've become obnoxious — I mean, really
bad. Now we have started on a totally new plan, where
I'm sure we're going to do something of significance for
the artist, really significant, on a level that will attract
a totally different brand of everything. It will assure me
the use of very exciting works in all of these buildings,
original works. Instead of buying reproductions and things
to put in the private offices and so forth, we're going to
be able to use original works. And Home is interested as
hell in this, not in a kind of cheap, lip-service way.
Howard himself became an art collector, and so many
of the other people have become very involved as people
who demand art in their own lives and in their own homes.
Into a large number of homes, I've been able to get marvelous
things done by artists, because they come to me and they say,
"Where can I get these things?" Well, it's exciting. I
believe so deeply that if you are really anxious to solve
problems, that the problems are thicker and they'll come
to you faster than you can keep up with them.
Of course when we got really involved in these Home
Savings things we became excitingly involved with glass
and metal and wood and stone and mosaics. We have had
tapestries woven for twenty years. Where I want a sound
problem quieted down, instead of using hard material, I
use a tapestry. I designed a lot of them, and I had a lot
of them designed by other artists, sometimes from my own
staff. The beauty of it is that these artists have learned
to believe that there is a place for them. And they're not
doing compromising things. Anything you saw over there on
the floor today [in the mosaic studio] is the best that we
can do. If it isn't good, it's our fault.
TAPE NUMBER: VIII, SIDE ONE
JANUARY 11, 1977
GOODWIN: Last session we began to discuss Mr. Sheets 's
work with Home Savings and Loan. He explained how, when
he was commissioned to do the first building, Mr. Ahmanson
was looking for a building which was much more interesting
than the ones he knew on Wilshire Boulevard. He was also
looking for a building that would be interesting thirty-
five years after it was built. What were the other criteria
he had in mind and others that you employed in designing
the Home Savings buildings?
SHEETS: I think that's a very good question, George. He
felt that in most American commercial buildings there had
been a lack of art--not merely in terms of perhaps hanging
pictures, but art that was integrated into the design of
the building, both in sculpture and in murals of various
kinds. His general reaction, I should say, to our sur-
roundings was that we were rather culturally deficient in
this respect. He believed that people would be very much
interested in the inclusion of the arts. He said, "I don't
have any idea how to go about it, I don't know where you
would go for artists other than yourself or whom you might
choose, and I think we should definitely, from the very
beginning, think in terms of including art — not in some
superficial way but in a way that would make the building
more exciting and create a presence that doesn't exist in
most commercial buildings." He said, "Most of them are at
best well decorated by good furniture and occasional hangings
and reproductions and so forth, but I want something that
is really a part of the building."
So from the very beginning, I, needless to say, was
delighted to think of the building as being not a form that
you left a space or two and marked "mural" or "mosaic" or
something else in, but as a form that required these arts
to be an integral part of it. The sculpture was, of course,
related both in scale and material. Sometimes we worked in
bronze. Sometimes we worked in fired ceramic that became
an actual part of the body of the building. We also
carved, in many instances, right into the live stone.
We've worked in almost every way that you can work in
sculpture. We've had a great deal of work done in wood
as well as in bronze and metals of various kinds. We've
welded as well as cast. In mosaics we've gone the gamut.
I guess in a period of over twenty-seven years, we must
have done at least seventy-five mosaics in Home buildings
alone. But very often we had more than one facade in which
we've used mosaics. We've worked them inside the buildings
as well as outside. The response to mosaics is really very
exciting. People like the richness of the glass and the
vibration of the textures. And of course, the ideas:
we've nearly always used symbols that would symbolize
Home Savings — the family, the home. Or sometimes if it's
an industrial area, or if it's in a highly recreational
area, we've tried to do subjects that seem to fit the
best we can into the area as well as to become architec-
GOODWIN: Is there a formula you've developed?
SHEETS: I would say to a degree. And to a degree we've
been frozen, too, based upon the success of the early
buildings. The early buildings were phenomenally successful
from the point of view of the company or the corporation.
What I mean by that is that the public reaction was so
strong that the first Home Savings building literally paid
for itself in the first ten days of operation. We built
that building on Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of Beverly
Hills, right across the street on the same north side from
where they had been doing business for about nine years.
In nine years the old building had taken in approximately
$11 million in deposits. It was a very nice building, not
unattractive, but it didn't have anything specifically to
separate it from the other things on Wilshire Boulevard.
When we built the new building, we had both mosaic and
sculpture, and it had a different feeling entirely. In
the first ten days, $19 million walked in the front door.
Now, that was a great shock to Mr. Ahmanson, and it was
probably a greater shock to me because neither of us had
been thinking in terms of this being so important to
business. But immediately it was apparent that it was
important to business. And as years went on, they made
many polls. They had customers fill out various kinds of
questionnaires. Out of the small number of people that do
fill out the questionnaires, some 90 percent of them said
the reason they came to Home was they admired the buildings
and had felt pride in banking in such a building.
Well, we got to the point where we couldn't knock what
they were saying. We had to accept it. That had a disad-
vantage because once that had been established, Mr. Ahmanson
was very afraid of changing the basic scheme of things.
That's why there has been certain repetition of using, for
instance, travertine on the outside, of using certain things
that have made the buildings always recognizable. Of course,
when I designed that first shield, which I designed just as
a symbol of Home Savings, I didn't know I was going to see
it twenty times a day on television and in some forty-five
buildings now. It's something that has become . . .
GOODWIN: A trademark?
SHEETS: ... a definite trademark. It's a logo that is
well established. The same thing with the mosaics. The
family theme I have wanted to break away from — not always
by any means, because I think it's a fine theme. The home
is absolutely what Home is all about, and I can't suggest
that we could have a better one. But on occasions it would
be interesting to deviate a great deal, just for a particular
place or for some special purpose. But that's been rather
The whole idea of monolithic buildings, I've never
been able to get them to give up. Lots of times I wanted
to use a lot of glass, say, on the north side of the
building. But they have gotten the feeling from the
public that they like the sense of security that these
buildings have had. I know lots of architects and designers
have made fun of them and have referred to them on several
occasions — it always comes back to me--as being rather like
mausoleums, but I think many of them wish that they could
design a couple of mausoleums that would produce the
incredible return, which is, after all, what an architect
or a designer is supposed to do, in my opinion. It is to
serve the need of the client.
At the same time, I have to say unequivocally that I
have never done one thing on those buildings to compromise
my own personal understanding or taste. If the buildings
are not good, it's because I lack whatever they lack. I
don't wish ever to suggest that the client has put me into
a corner. I've always taken the facts — the particular ter-
rain where a building is, the size of the property, the
budget that is involved, and the use of the building — into
consideration, and I have done the best job I can knowing
that those are facts I must deal with.
GOODWIN: So you don't try and cater to the public's image
of what fine art is?
SHEETS: Not at all. If I catered at all, it's to my own
concept. It hasn't changed too much, although I would have
loved to have had more flexibility. One time, for instance,
I complained strongly to Mr. Ahmanson. I didn't really
complain — I just in a very enthusiastic way said, "Howard,
it's time that we grew a little bit. Let me do three or
four different concepts for this new building. It's a very
important building." He said, "Fine, go ahead. Let's see
what you do." I made four very complete designs for the
same building--that is, a building that had to go on one
spot--and I took all four of them in. He looked at them
with very serious thought. I know he gave them a great
deal of consideration, and he finally ended up by saying,
"Millard, I like all of them. But I'm not willing to
gamble, to change the image to the extent that three of
these buildings do." He said, "I'll stick with this fourth
one, which is a little nearer what we do. You can always
have latitude, but I just know that it's foolish for us to
get off of something that we know is right. The image is
established. Whether all people like it or not isn't the
important thing." [laughter] "Masses of people who put
their money there for security and for return are, after
all, the reason that we've spent the money to do the
I think it's an interesting lesson. It convinces me
that to simply impose a personal artist's style or a personal
artist's attitude upon all problems, regardless of what the
problem is, is not a good solution to a problem. I've known
some marvelous designers whose work I admire tremendously,
but many of the buildings are nonfunctional. They do not
produce what we're talking about here in the way of return
in a free enterprise system for an investment. In the
private home, that's a totally different matter, and in
many other instances you are not tied down. But in most
instances, you are tied down to the problem that someone
is going to invest in the building. They buy the land,
they pay for the building, and they have a tremendous amount
of money involved. I think it is the duty of the designer
to think out the needs and the solutions, recognizing that
if you are working with this part of the public or the whole
part of the public, which in this case we are, it makes a
difference how you solve the problem. I suppose if you're
doing a museum and you're appealing primarily to a certain
type of sophistication, that you might have a chance to do
certain things that you wouldn't have in a building like
this, although we have had astounding reactions from all
sections of life, and that's pleasing to me as a designer.
It doesn't tell me that the buildings are any better, but
I do know I've solved the problem.
GOODWIN: What are the various steps involved in building
a building, as far as you're concerned?
SHEETS: The first problem — and it's getting to be the most
difficult headache of the whole business — is the limited
terrain you have. Of course it's becoming more and more
necessary to get a great deal more property to do the same
thing because of the controls now that are imposed upon
every building by new requirements. I'm not speaking of
the safety requirements of the building restrictions.
Building restrictions, I would fight to agree with until
the last dog was hung, because they're safety factors.
But when you get into aesthetics and into questions of
taste, the new kind of standards that are being set up
by, often, very young and inexperienced people, or people
who are strictly bureaucratic in their approach, become so
unreasonable. Whereas it used to take a matter of months
to get a building through a city, generally it takes a year
to two years today. The commissions seem to have little or
no interest in whether you ever get it through or not. It's
a strange period we're going through of bureaucratic control,
Now the parking problem has become, obviously, one of
the chief problems. I can't disagree today with the
requirements that are laid down by most cities for parking.
But it's astounding how much more property you have to have
for parking than you have for building: maybe four-to-one
or five-to-one or sometimes six-to-one, depending upon the
intensity of the area. These are all problems you have to
face. Before you can think about anything creatively, you
got to get a ground plan that takes up so much space. Now,
we know that an office that is going to have, let's say,
twenty-four windows and eighteen new- account desks calls
for a certain-sized building. We know before we even start
the building that we cannot squeeze extra desks and windows
into anything that isn't big enough. So right from the
start we know the building's going to be, let's say, 90 x
120. That's just the building. Now, the moment you estab-
lish that the percentage of usable space in that building
dictates the number of cars per 100 square feet in the
building, so you have to multiply or divide or whatever it
is and get your number of cars. Then you've got to figure
ingress: where the city will let you come in or off from
the street. They're getting very much tougher about that
all the time, which they should, because of the safety
factors. I would never fight most of those problems. Once
in a while they're unreasonable, but generally speaking I've
found that that kind of an engineer is a person you can deal
with. They're not the bureaucratic boneheads that you run
into on the architectural design committees.
Most of these people came out of one school. I think
we mentioned this, didn't we? The new School of Architecture
at the University of California at Berkeley has been primarily
turning out city planners and people who have only one
interest, and that is planning the future of everybody
else's life. Most of them are not trained as architects,
even though they claim to be, and they have a very inner
clique now that is operating in almost all the small cities
of California, and they're creeping into the big cities.
These people who have graduated primarily from that school,
where they have really been doing social planning more than
anything else, have become extremely arbitrary and extremely
tough to deal with. They've got so much support from the
ecologists today, the ecologists not understanding entirely
what they're supporting, but they get backing that gives
them the possibility of really putting people into corners.
I had a recent experience with one of these fairly
good-sized cities, in how one of these planners operates.
Now, you must go and see them perhaps two months before you
submit even your first rough, preliminary concept in order
to pay lip service to them and also to get whatever ideas
they will give you, which are very guarded because they
don't want to be responsible for anything that you do; they
just want to be a critic. That's easy, you know, if you
get guys coming back ten times, twelve times, or fifteen
times, and I made seventeen trips in one of these cities
before I got the design through. It was bureaucratic con-
trol, and never any advice, always criticism. It is getting
more arbitrary and more arbitrary. During the early stages
of that particular experience, I said, "Now, where are the
rules in your building setup here in the city that say this
has to be and that has to be and this cannot be?" He said,
"We don't have any of them." I said, "What power do you
have?" He answered, "Well, if you want to get 'this thing
through the city, you'll do it the way we want it or else
you're not going to get it through. We'll create too many
roadblocks for you." Now, that's pretty threatening, and
it's pretty sad, too, and it's pretty shocking in terms of
our times. I'm not speaking only about my problems; I'm
speaking about every single architect and designer I know.
They are just going crazy.
Then, of course, the Coastal Commission was infinitely
worse. That added a totally new dimension to the problem
because they were taking upon themselves responsibilities
and decisions that they were absolutely out of range on.
They didn't know what they were doing, and they were so
arbitrary, and they stopped more good things from happening
than you can believe.
You have to consider all these things in answering your
question, which was, "What are the first things?" Well,
first you have to be sure you're meeting all the standards--
or not even standards; they're requirements. Sometimes
they're good standards, and sometimes they're arbitrary.
Well, then, from that point on, the fun begins. Then
it's really exciting. You say we're going to work in this
area along this line because it fits into the community. We
don't always copy the style of the other people; I don't
mean that. But I wouldn't want to put a very polished
granite or marble building in the middle of an area that's
surrounded with a bunch of brick and wood and plaster, though
sometimes we do. Even in those areas, if we have a separate
site that's so completely by itself, with nothing around it,
we can do it. But we try to fit in, not only in subject
matter for the art end of it but in the materials we use.
We're doing a building right now that is going to be a
dark brick, which we haven't ever used before, because the
buildings around it are mostly dark brick, and we like to
fit in. We don't want to be a sore thumb. On the other
hand, we're not going to lose our image, either. We're
going to keep the forms that will make it work. So your
function is first, after you get all the long-range planning
out of the way.
After you get the function inside operating, then the
outside nearly always grows pretty simply and clearly — the
choice of materials, the size of openings, the amount of
decoration — and then I'm always involved completely with
the planting as well as the furnishings.
GOODWIN: Do the people that work for you do the plans?
SHEETS: I do all of the designing, every bit of it. I
detail everything, but I have marvelous people working with
me who put it all down in final working drawings. In the
old days we did everything. At one time I had four archi-
tects working for me and about ten draftsmen and engineers.
We did the whole thing right in our office. But as time
has gone on, I have been working with Home Savings in a
new dimension. I'm now the director of their design program.
I still design the buildings, and I have my own staff. I
have two architects, who are excellent collaborators with
me, and they finish up the preliminary phases of the design,
which I present to the client. When those are approved,
then I associate with an outside architect, generally in
the vicinity where we do the building. If it's in the north,
we try to work with architects in the north, for obvious
reasons: it's good for them, they know the problems, and
they can take the plans in and push them through the building
department. They can do the supervision in the early part
of the work, when you're excavating and putting in all your
rough framing and steel and all that. Then I do all the
supervision for the final stages, when we put in all the
final finishes and the landscaping.
GOODWIN: Is there a so-called art budget for each building?
SHEETS: Well, fortunately. Home Savings has never ever
wanted to segregate it. Now that's not true of most cor-
porations, believe me. That's why I think Home is so very
unusual in having continued this approach for some twenty-
six or -seven years now. They've never backed away from the
idea that the arts were essential, since they proved to be
good in the first two or three buildings. They have never
backed away from this. And even though Mr. Ahmanson died
ten or more years ago, his nephews, Bill and Bob Ahmanson,
and other members of the board who've carried on have never
wavered, really at all, in the idea of the importance of
the arts. We don't really have a set budget. They know
that I am going to use it only where I think it's going to
do us the most good. I would never just pad it with any-
thing, but wherever I think that we can get a good public
response to catch attention, we'll use it. We do probably
as much on the outside as we do on the inside, if not more,
for that reason: that it gives the passerby a sense of
what is going on inside, and inside, we make it as beautiful
as we can.
I can't overstate the importance of the landscaping,
because we try, when we open a building, to make it look
like it's been there for fifteen or twenty years and not
like it's a freshly planted building. We buy beautiful,
big trees and spend a great deal of time and a great deal
of money moving them. We bring them into the community as
though they've really been established for a long time.
People appreciate this very much, the public as a whole.
Certainly it makes it more fun for me because landscaping
is just as much a part of the building as all the interior
furnishings. That's why I do them all in my office.
GOODWIN: Can you give me some idea of costs? What do you
spend on mosaics and sculpture and things like that, com-
pared to the overall expenses?
SHEETS: Let's just take one figure, for example. Let's
say the building costs a million dollars. Of course in
the old days, our buildings didn't cost anything like that.
The first building we built in Beverly Hills, I know that
we built for under twenty dollars a square foot, including
all of the art, but that was twenty-six years ago. Our
buildings today run probably in the area of around thirty-
six to thirty-eight dollars, including the art, per square
foot. I would say that, on a million dollar building, we
would probably spend in the neighborhood of $80,000 for
art. Now that would include the mosaics. It would include
whatever murals or tapestries were inside, and it would
include stained-glass windows.
We use a great many stained-glass windows. I did it
sort of as a fluky idea in the first building because I
always wanted to make a stained-glass window, and I thought
it would be fun to do a window showing different periods of
barter in the ancient days. I never thought I'd be doing
more than one of these things. I used the theme of money
and bartering, and the development of money. I had some
beautiful engraved glass panels. Then I had bartering done
in stained glass as a frame around these money symbols,
from the ancient Egyptian coming on through into all the
different cultures. Well, the response to stained glass
was surprising. I'd always thought of it as being primarily
something that would go into a church or a synagogue or in
a building of that kind, but not at all. The public just
simply reacts to the stained glass as a most exciting sort
of a thing. I think the color is what does it and the
brilliance of the glass. There's hardly a building that
doesn't have major stained glass. I've just finished one
in San Francisco, and I saw the glass up in place last
Friday. It's probably fifty feet wide, though it isn't
completely solid--there are some clear, interesting spaces
in it — but it's about thirty feet high. Now, that's a huge
The most exciting thing about these windows to me is
that one of the young ladies [Susan Hertel] who has worked
with me for twenty-four years does all the stained-glass
designing now. She does all of the execution of it along
with the glass man who's been here in Pasadena a long time,
John Wallace. She makes the original design in color on a
scale sketch. Then she blows the thing up full size into
a full-size cartoon. Then she takes the cartoon, after
having broken it down into every shape of every piece of
glass and all the leading and everything else, into the
Wallace studio, and she picks every single color out of
probably more than a thousand colors which she has there
to select from. Then after the glass is cut and mounted
with hot wax on a huge plate glass she goes in and does
all of the painting on the glass, freehand, just looking
at her sketch. She's a master, really, at both the drawing
and design. Then after she finishes doing the painting,
the glass is fired. That paint that she uses is not paint.
of course; it's really a black glass powder, and it's put
on with sugar water, which, mixed with this glass powder,
makes a thick little paste that you can paint with. Then
when that goes into the electric kiln, it fires and becomes
an integral part of the glass. It can never be removed;
it's a finished, permanent thing. Then it's leaded and put
into the window frames and then taken out on the job. It's
a complete process. But that's become one of the most
fascinating things in our buildings, I think, from the
public point of view.
We work very much also with tapestries, and people do
respond to them. Those are woven either in Aubusson in
France or in Portugal. We've done a great deal of work
We also work in ceramic tile; we've done some huge
murals, both at Home Savings and in other places. I
developed some special glazes with some very fine ceramic
engineers over a period of about nine years when I was the
head of design for the Interpace Corporation. We were doing
experimental work, and as a result of that, we were able,
literally, to paint in glaze, which is something that's
never been done before by anyone. There have been marvelous
things done in Persia and all over the world in clay and
tile, but the glazes were all underglazes, meaning that
they put on a kind of a slip glaze, and it was all fairly
narrow in color range. They did get some beautiful blues.
brilliant yellows, and reds, but they were slip glaze and
they were very low fire. Then on top of that they put a
shield of glass painted on, which, when fired, protected
this slip glaze. That's a technique that's ancient. It
goes back a couple of thousand years at least, probably
more like 3,000 or 4,000. But for the first time we were
able to develop a full palette. Any color that you've
ever seen in paint, we were able to develop and to make
a one-fire proposition out of it, which was just unheard
of before. For instance, they could never fire the best
reds at the same temperature that they would fire a blue.
One or the other would give up the ghost and disappear or
turn into another color. It took us years to do this, but
we developed it. What these ceramic engineers did is an
incredible accomplishment. They accomplished it mainly
because I goaded them into it, and also they had the com-
pany to back it and they spent hundreds of thousands of
dollars in research on this project. So I was able to
take advantage of those things, and we've done some big
GOODWIN: It sounds like many of the media used in Home
Savings buildings — stained glass, mosaics, tapestries —
are media of, as you suggested, the medieval world,
churches and so on.
SHEETS: That's right, that's absolutely true.
GOODWIN: But on the other hand, I'm reminded of the fact
that Picasso and Miro and Matisse and Chagall and Leger,
all these people, have revived many of the same media.
SHEETS: Absolutely. I think that's the exciting thing
about modern painting and modern art. When painting became
so completely photographic, as it did toward the end of the
nineteenth century, and modern art developed as a revolution
against that slavery to the eye, along with it came a
tremendous, renewed interest in primitive art, as you well
know, influence of the African art, the influence of the
early, early, early Renaissance and before, going way back
into archaic Greece and archaic China and everywhere else.
I think that, naturally, as the artists went back for
inspiration — and they did, no question about it — they became
much more concerned with the beauties of Byzantine architec-
ture and Byzantine sculpture and Romanesque, and also in
the materials in which these great art works were expressed.
There has been a tremendous revival .
What makes me sad is that it isn't an integral part
of education again. Now they do teach a lot of ceramics,
but mostly a very limited view of that field. It's not a
limited field — it's a fantastic field. They do teach
occasionally a little bit of piddling stained glass. Most
of the sculpture is abstract and welded or carved out of
wood or something. But to get back to the point where they
make people free, they just aren't doing enough of it,
because these materials mean extra opportunities for
artists. The more materials you work in and the more you
understand and master, to a degree at least, the more
exciting your possibilities are as a human being, as an
artist to meet special needs.
I remember all my life that people have come to me
with problems that were completely outside of my realm.
It's appalling if you're reaching out how these things
come towards you without any soliciting on your part.
I've always felt it's an exciting challenge. Well, how
did an artist handle this material? The only way to find
out is to do it, and you do it. I think I described that
to you in painting fresco. I'd never painted a fresco
until I won a competition, and then you read a book and
figure out a few logical things and you go about it. But
that should be part of an artist's education.
GOODWIN: Which of the several Home Savings buildings have
you enjoyed doing the most? Which are the ones you think
are the most successful?
SHEETS: Well, from the point of view of putting ideas and
building and function together, I think maybe the one in
Hollywood. The one at Sunset and Vine is a good one because
there we happened to have a site which was the particular
site where the first full-length motion picture was made
in Hollywood. So without having to search too much for
themes, we decided that we'd make motion pictures the theme
of the art in the building. I designed a semiabstract
arrangement on the front of the building, underneath the
overhang. I made some very simple stripes of figures with
an organic sort of a movement through them. Then between those
were black granite panels, vertical stripes that had hundreds
of names carved into them in gold of the great stars in
Hollywood. So it's a little bit like the history of Hollywood,
just to go stand in front and read the names. But between
the names are many portraits, full-length figure portraits
of some of the greatest stars. This was a hell of a problem
because it isn't too difficult to cut a head or do a figure
in mosaic, but when we found ourselves trying to do por-
traits of people that everybody in the world knows through
motion picture, it was a hell of a challenge. It was very
exciting because I think we did keep them as works of art,
solid and simple. At the same time they do work, and people
do know who they are. There are some of those also on the
rear side of the building.
On the interior. Sue Hertel , this young gal whom I
mentioned worked for me, did a stained-glass window that
I think is one of the most exciting windows, one of the
best I've ever seen. We were fooling around for ideas or
subject matter, and I said, "Sue, I've got a great idea,
the chase. All of the early pictures somebody was chasing
somebody. The Indians were chasing the cowboys and vice
versa, and in the Mac Sennett comedies, everybody was
chasing everybody. Buster Keaton was being chased. Even
Moby Dick was being chased. Let's do it like a series of
film strips, some big and wide and strong and some narrower,
and we'll show the little perforations along the edge of
the strip to suggest that it is film. Then in a very
abstract way, let's do this whole window just full, again,
of the kind of thing that made motion pictures what they
were in the early days." That's one that everybody admires.
It's been reproduced in all sorts of magazines all over the
country. The tourist agencies run busloads of people out
there every week in Tanner buses to look at the building
because it's a kind of a landmark now. I painted a mural
on the inside with the theme of the actual shooting of the
first full-length picture ever made in Hollywood. That
building has become a kind of a landmark in many ways for
a lot of people.
It has a big pool out in front, and I was able to buy
an early [Paul] Manship sculpture which he did for an estate
in Delaware. Some of the owners died, and we were able to
buy the sculpture. We had it in storage for about six or
eight years before I decided how to use it. I built a
special fountain on the corner, a great place for hippies
(in the worst of the hippie days) to wash their feet, but
finally they outgrew that. But it's a fun building.
Of course, the original building I like. But there
are many; they're so different.
GOODWIN: What is your role in designing a mosaic?
SHEETS: 1 have designed most of the mosaics myself com-
pletely, and Sue, in these latter years, has done a few
mosaics herself. She's marvelous. She does the most
beautiful work. But I've designed most all of them, which
means that I make a small sketch, a color sketch in scale,
an inch to a foot. I then blow it up full size. Sue has
always helped me tremendously on the cartoons. We work
together so closely that we don't know where one works and
the other leaves off, really, we've worked so long together
Then with my color sketch she goes into the mosaic studio
every day and checks on the color that the cutters are
using, so that they can't get it out of value or out of
color. That's been our routine for twenty-some years be-
cause we've been making our own mosaics for over twenty
years. We started out by having them made in Italy. I
used to go over to Italy and give them the cartoons and
the color sketches.
GOODWIN: In Venice?
SHEETS: In Venice mostly and once or twice in Germany.
They did very good work, but having our own studio is the
exciting thing to me, having young people coming along.
We show them a sketch, then we give them a very finished
cartoon from which they make the tracings on which they
actually paste their glass. After they reach a certain
point, it becomes a very creative process, and there's as
much quality that comes out of their skill and imagination
as there is in whatever we have as a basic design. The
basic design isn't going to change, but the quality of
the cutting makes for the excitement within it. Of course,
in the days of Byzantium, when you cut each piece and just
pushed it into a piece of wet cement, you had a fresh
quality that was magnificent. You could tilt each glass
a little and pick up a little different facet of light,
particularly in the golds. That's a marvelous quality.
But there's no way that this can be done today, where a
building is being built for a year or a year and a quarter.
You wouldn't even get a wall to work on until the last
matter of weeks, at the most. Some of these mosaics take
us six or eight months to execute in my studio. So the
only way to do it is to do it on paper and then have a
very top craftsman put it up. We have been able over a
period of time to develop the kind of people to do that
expertly. It's a very interesting process putting all
these different kinds of people together. Preparing the
wall even before we get to it is important as a part of
the building construction, because you can't apply a mosaic
to a cement wall without proper preparation of the wall.
Everything has to be done exactly right: the thickness
when the finished wall is done must fit the moldings or
other surfaces that it comes against. It's a very intricate
problem, but exciting.
GOODWIN: What are your methods as far as developing a
design for, say, a mural program? Do you struggle with an
idea and arrange and rearrange it or do you more or less
flash on what you want and it's there?
SHEETS: Well, as you get more experienced you flash a
little more, but I've never found a time it wasn't to a
certain degree a struggle. If you don't struggle, you
aren't growing. I don't try to repeat, although I do some
things that, I suppose, look like repeats. First of all, I
try to decide on an area that's going to be exciting, the
shape of the area, whatever it is, because we just don't do
rectangles, we do vignettes; we do all sorts of things to
fit into the building and on the building. Then I discuss
with myself the best subject matter for that building in
that particular locale. Now we're working a great deal in
northern California and central California and down in San
Diego and all over the state, which gives us a lot of range
in differences of subject matter. Once you decide on the
subject matter, then a good deal of it just comes naturally
out of your head from having been working with certain types
of subject matter. I generally try to get my basic, central
forms, whatever they are, placed in an interesting way, and
then begin to build around them. Or if I have to do research,
very often I'm very excited about something I find in there.
Maybe I have a totally new concept of what I really wanted
the centers to be.
GOODWIN: Does that mean you go to a library and look up the
history of an area?
SHEETS: Oh, yes, you bet, absolutely. But not only that.
I have a very large library up in my studio up north.
Because of this purpose, it's essential; it's absolutely
essential to have material without always having to chase
it. I buy books continuously. Whenever I have a new job
that requires something, rather than go to the library, I
just buy whatever number of books I can get on the subject,
Sometimes I just read the text; sometimes there are inter-
esting photographs of the period or something that gives
you the costume or the mechanics of the life. If it's
wagons or whatever, you want to be reasonably right. But
similarly, you don't want to be handicapped by that infor-
mation. So it's a case of putting the two together,
creatively and imaginatively, and at the same time not
doing something that's going to offend somebody who thinks
he's an authority on the period. But books are essential,
and research is essential. I've been doing a tremendous
amount of that recently for San Francisco. I'm doing a
mural inside that is a series of ideas that depict the
history of the city, and then on the outside we're doing
some mosaics. That's all fun, and it seems to come out
GOODWIN: Are there any other Home Savings buildings we
should mention as being particularly intriguing?
SHEETS: Well, I think the one in San Francisco that we're
just finishing is going to be very intriguing. It's going
to have this huge stained-glass window that I mentioned.
It will have these two different historical things: on
the inside, the painted mural; and then on the outside,
the mosaics. We hope to have all original paintings from
San Francisco artists on the inside. I'm in the process
of getting ready to buy some of those now, so that we'll
bring as much as we can of the flavor of the city, con-
temporary and past, into it.
We're doing a very, very exciting job in San Diego
right now. We've done one out in the desert at Barstow
that I think really fits into the community. We did one
in Victorville many, many years ago that still holds up
very well for the desert. We've adjusted to the areas.
We've done a temporary job in Santa Maria that I like very
much. I think it really fits, and the response of the
public has been fantastic. We've done them all over. It's
hard to select one right off the top of my head because
there's so many. We've done big office buildings in some
locations where we use the lower floor for Home Savings,
and of course we've done lots of single buildings. We've
very often done things like the one in Hollywood, which is
just a small, two-story building, backed up by a huge sky-
scraper and surrounded by a very tall building. It sits
there almost like a little, special plum, and it works.
GOODWIN: How long are the buildings built to last?
SHEETS: Well, that's a good question. I think that most
buildings today are built, at the most, for 100 years. It
seems a shame to talk and think like that. I think they
would last longer than that. They probably would last a
couple of hundred years with a basic concrete building or
with the steel and brick and other construction. Some of
them would last a lot longer than that, but I doubt very
much if the function of the building would stay the same.
TAPE NUMBER: VIII, SIDE TWO
JANUARY 11, 1977
SHEETS: You asked the question, George, "How long would
these buildings last?" I think physically they could last
at least a couple of hundred years, but it's my belief that
the function will change radically in banking. I think that
a time will come when there will be so much more done elec-
tronically than is done today that it won't be necessary to
deal with a number of people going in and out of a building,
as we do today. I don't even have the imagination to know
how far we'll go, but it may all be done over the telephone
eventually, with special electronic devices. As it is today,
you can go in any Home Savings branch, even without your
book, and they can tell you in a matter of about twelve
seconds exactly how much you have on deposit. You can
deposit money in San Francisco and have it credited to your
account in Los T^geles instantly. It's all done by computer,
as you know. I've seen so much change even in the last ten
years of the twenty-six or -seven years, where our function
is changing the nature of what we need. So whereas the
building might stand, it might not be a savings and loan
building in fifty or so years. I have no way of knowing.
But I don't think most commercial buildings are thought of
as being more than century buildings.
GOODWIN: Do you have any thoughts, some night when you
can't sleep, about what's going to happen to all those art
SHEETS: It is a kind of a strange feeling, when you think
back on the hundreds and thousands of years that some
buildings have lasted. But on the other hand, I know that
probably hundreds of thousands of buildings done in those
periods disappeared because they weren't important enough
as works of art, as expressions of a society, for people
to protect them that long. So I think everybody has to
sort of take that into consideration, as much as you'd
like to see some of these things last longer. It's probably
survival of the fittest in the long run, any way.
GOODWIN: When we first began discussing your work with Home
Savings, you said that you were the toughest critic of some
of the work you've done. You could offer the best criticism.
SHEETS: Oh, I believe so. I believe so. I think that if
you aren't, you aren't growing. If you're satisfied that
everything you've done is all right, it would be a terrible
thing. I don't ever feel that. I feel that I'm sometimes
very pleased that I've been able to do as well as I've done,
but I think that I know my mistakes more quickly than anyone
GOODWIN: What would you do over if you had the opportunity
or the need? What would you modify, perhaps?
SHEETS: Well, I'll give you just an illustration. I did
a building in Santa Monica [2600 Wilshire Boulevard] which
is a fairly good-sized building. 1 had a front elevation
that was turned exactly at a 4 5-degree angle to the corner,
then two wings that came forward. They didn't go straight
across, like many of our 45-degree corner buildings have
done. I'm not objecting to that at all. But instead of
doing, as I generally do, smaller, vig'netted mosaics in
the middle of perhaps a dark colored granite or something,
I did a whole panel. It's one of the biggest ones we've
done. We actually used the same plans twice. We used it
in Anaheim as well as in Santa Monica, though we had totally
different themes in the mosaic in Santa Monica than in the
one in Anaheim. I would never do it again. It's too much
mosaic. It's too much in a rectangle. It's like an over-
sized painting. I wince every time I go by it. Now,
people like the mosaic, and I don't think it's one of the
greatest, but it's a satisfactory mosaic. Certainly I
designed it--so I haven't anybody to blame but myself.
But I would never do that again, because I think it's far
too separate from the building, and it should never be
separate. It should be an integral part.
I like the mosaic best, for instance, in Pasadena.
I think we have some perfectly beautiful mosaics. They're
long, narrow panels. They're vertical, and they are rec-
tangular. We used some Persian poetry translated into
English. There are some tall cypress trees with figures
and some poetry at the bottom. They just seem to be
beautiful on that building, and they're not overpowering.
You could pass by and maybe not see them or if you wanted
to look, they're there. I kind of like that feeling more
and more all the time and seem less and less concerned
about the size of things, but more about what they do.
Now, that's a criticism.
I think in some cases maybe I'd like to have seen it
a little taller for its width. Sometimes you're bound by
the darned rules and regulations that tell you, you can't
build it over twenty-four feet or twenty-eight or thirty-
two or something else. You can't always control that, but
you can make a stab at it.
In the materials, we've used basically good materials.
By that 1 mean lasting materials. One of the reasons that
our buildings hold up well is they don't have to be repainted
every five, eight, ten years. If they're in fine materials,
they last; they don't even need cleaning for thirty years.
For instance, we have a painting contract as a rule in our
buildings counting everything on the inside. It probably
wouldn't go over three or four thousand dollars on a half-
million-dollar building, maybe five thousand or six thousand
dollars on a million-dollar building, because we use
permanent, beautiful paneling. We use beautiful floors
that don't have to be refinished and things like that. Of
course, carpeting is something else; you have to put that
down once in a while. But the basic building is made out
of materials that people respond to. It's also a good
investment for the people who build the building. They
save so much money by not having to continuously redo.
One of the problems you have in a big corporate setup
like this is that even though you have a fine manager and
you have people that are responsible for the upkeep of the
buildings, they don't see the things that need to be done
as fast as they should see them, if you leave it up to
them to take care of painting and a lot of this kind of
thing, even the cleaning. You can whip them by doing it
the ether way, by doing something where it doesn't make
much difference if it's cleaned up, dusted, and that kind
of thing or not. Then you don't have to worry about it.
That's one reason that I think we've been very successful
from an economic side. Whereas we spend more money in the
beginning, sometimes quite a bit more on the materials,
they're permanently there, and you don't have to fool
around with them.
GOODWIN: Let me ask a more personal question that I think
will be of some curiosity to people who read these tran-
scripts in the future. Are you paid for each building you
design or are you paid on a regular salary from Home Savings
as a regular employee?
SHEETS: Well, I'm very glad to answer that question. Up
until the last about two and a half years, I've been paid
for each individual building. I felt very strongly some
two or three years ago that I didn't want to continue at
that pace, partly because of my age and partly because of
the fact that I want more and more time to paint. So I
have been able to work out a very satisfactory arrangement
on an annual stipend that is very adequate, from Home
Savings. I'm able to have more and more work done after
I've done the designing than I used to do. I'm hoping, as
you know, in the next matter of months at the most to be
as freed of this whole responsibility as I can, because
I've been planning, desperately, to paint the rest of my
life. The only way to do this is to really get out of this
tremendous pressured and exciting world I've lived in. It
hasn't been pressure except where I created it; no one else
has created it. I've created my own pressure by being that
much involved, that much interested. To answer your ques-
tion, it was always on an individual building basis until
in the last two or three years, when, at my request, we've
done it the other way.
GOODWIN: Let's talk about another aspect of Home Savings
and your relationship with Howard Ahmanson. That is the
design of the new County Art Museum.
SHEETS: I didn't have anything to do with that. I didn't
have anything to do with the County Art Museum. I did
have, I'm confident, a lot to do with his desire to want
to build it. We agreed right at the beginning. Though he
at first talked very strongly about the idea of my designing
the museum, I persuaded him very quickly, and he was very
quick to see, that that could become a political kind of
thing that we didn't want any part of. I think he wanted
[William] Pereira because they had been very good friends
for a long, long time. Pereira was awarded the contract
by the county, I think quite definitely due to his persua-
sion, although I'm sure they considered a great number of
architects. I know that my name was thrown into the pot
not only by Howard in the beginning, but by other people,
but I didn't want to be involved in anything that could
get that political.
GOODWIN: So you never prepared any plans?
SHEETS: No. I did a lot of the preliminary designing on
the new Ahmanson Center [3701 Wilshire Boulevard] , but I
didn't do that. That was done by Edward Durell Stone.
There have been quite a few buildings, I think five or six,
that have been designed by other people than me for Home
Savings. When they built office buildings, mainly to be
seen easily from a freeway, and they wanted heighth,
they've gone to a very good architect who's done a lot
of the kind of office buildings (sort of general, rental
office buildings, with a Home Savings on the ground floor)
an architect named Homolka , who works with me now at a great
many of my jobs. After I design them, he does the finish
engineering. He's an excellent architect and has good
engineers. He is very cooperative, and I enjoy working
with him. Those two big projects that Howard was involved
with — well, three counting the [Ahmanson] Theatre r of
course, which was done by [Welton D.] Beckett, but the
other two I had never really been thought of as doing,
and it's better the way it worked out.
GOODWIN: Let's talk now about some of your other major
commissions, but for the most part outside of California.
Is it correct that you won a competition to do the murals
for the Detroit Public Library?
SHEETS: Yes. The National Academy [of Design], which is,
of course, in New York, has over the century and a half of
its existence, maybe longer, received a tremendous amount
of money from artists and from architects and people who
have been members or sometimes just friends of the academy.
One of the men who gave a great deal of money — I don't know
the full extent how much it is — was [Edward Austin] Abbey,
who was a very fine mural painter in the late nineteenth
and slightly into the twentieth century. He's a good easel
painter, but he also painted tremendous murals all over the
East, in Washington and various places. When he died, he
left a fortune to the academy, which he asked to be devoted
to mural painting and to be administered like this: that
the academy was to hold competitions, either open or by
invitation, and each artist invited to submit a design
for a particular project would be paid a reasonable amount
for their efforts. Then the academy jury, made up of
architects mainly, with, I think, one painter — something
like that — would commission the winning artists. Then
the Abbey fund would be used to pay for the entire cost
as a gift to a community or to an organization they felt
should logically receive such a gift. I don't know that
most public organizations know this, but they're eligible
for a possibility of this kind by applying to the academy.
I don't know really how many they do a year, but for the
commission that I won for the Detroit Public Library, I
think there were nine artists asked to submit designs.
Each one of us was to be paid a certain amount for his
sketch, except the artist who won the competition, when
the sum would apply toward the total job. And that's what
GOODWIN: Against whom did you compete?
SHEETS: Well, I don't like to say that. There were some
marvelous people, believe me, excellent artists. All of
them are very well known, probably far better known in the
East than I am, and they're nationally very well known,
too. But it's one of these things, you know. You come
up with an idea that the committee and the architects
GOODWIN: What was the nature of the project?
SHEETS: It's over the new entrance, the new front to the
Detroit library. They gave no thematic limitations. I
took the general theme that ideas really flow like a river
and the library houses the content of all the best ideas
of time. I'd have to show you the design. I wish I'd
really thought about this, because I could have brought it
to discuss it with you. But I used some very large, symbolic
figures in the center and on two sides, and then I tied these
together with smaller figures. It was a lot of fun. It is
a big mosaic. If I remember rightly, it's sixty feet long
and twenty-two feet high, and it's under a huge portico.
You can see it from quite a distance, so it has to carry
well, and at the same time it reads well when you get up
close. There's a lot of interesting detail in it. It's
We executed it here, and I think I told you that we can
be so much more creative doing it here in our own studio
because that's where the juices flow. You send designs to
Europe or for someone else to execute, and it's apt to be
deadly in a static reproduction of a sketch. This was one
of the first really big, big commissions for a mosaic that
we executed here. We went back and put it up ourselves.
GOODWIN: How long were you involved with that project?
SHEETS: About a year. It was a big one, and there were
so many big, figurative problems in it. The main figures
were about twelve feet high. It's interesting: when you
move up in scale from six feet to twelve feet, the problems
multiply rather than diminish. To have the simplicity and
the powerful form and expressive symbols, you can't fool
anybody. You've just got to really work at it, and I had
a great deal of pleasure out of that job.
GOODWIN: It came out to your satisfaction?
SHEETS: Yes, I wouldn't say that I was unhappy about that
job at all. I think it came out very well.
GOODWIN: I'd like to see it.
SHEETS: Well, I hope you can.
GOODWIN: Right. Shortly afterwards you did another commis-
sion, for the Notre Dame University Library.
SHEETS: Well, that was quite an experience. I had done a
very large mural in the new diagnostic center of the Mayo
Clinic back at Rochester, Minnesota. I'd worked with a
group of architects called Ellerbe and Associates in
Minneapolis. These architects were doing tremendous planning
all over the world. They built some of the greatest hospitals
and some of the greatest huge office buildings and industrial
plants. Among other things, they were master-planning and
rebuilding the whole Notre Dame campus. This campus was
really changing its axis. On one end of this axis, they
had a huge library with a big tower, and the architects'
original conception showed a mural going up the face of
this tower. They presented it to Notre Dame, and it was
basically approved. Then they were asked to submit to
Notre Dame University names of artists who might be able
to do a decoration in a material that would withstand the
real tests of time and weather.
Well, they asked me first to send material back,
which I did. They submitted my name along with a dozen
others to the university, mostly of people who had worked
on the Mayo Clinic with them. I think there were twenty-
five artists involved in the Mayo Clinic; it's quite a
library of mural painting. Every floor has a special work,
done by artists from England and the United States and
France and, I believe, one from Mexico. So they submitted
some dozen names to the University of Notre Dame.
Well, after looking at all the photographs they sub-
mitted, they selected me as the potential designer. I went
back to the architects' office in Minnesota and spent some
time discussing what material we might use to do this mural,
because it was a huge affair. It was to be 134 feet high
and 68 feet wide. That in itself was the biggest chunk of
material I've ever been involved with.
GOODWIN: In other words, it covered the entire facade of
SHEETS: It covered the central part of the tower. There
is a heavy, massive stone edge of the tower, probably fif-
teen feet wide on either side of the mural. But the mural
goes straight up from over the entrance door, right up
almost to the top of the tower, and that's a very large
The problem was what to use. We discussed mosaic, and
we talked about how the Mexicans had done it in Mexico City
at the University of Mexico. We discussed all sorts of
techniques of mosaic.
One of the engineers was very adamant. He said,
"Granite is the only thing that I think we should recommend,
because of the tremendous change of heat and cold in South
Bend, Indiana. I don't know anything about granite, whether
you could get the kind of colors you'd need or whether you
could get the kind of feeling you want out of granite, but
it should definitely be done in granite." He was a very
strong character, and he certainly knew what he was talking
about. His arguments were right about why it would stand
up for thousands of years, literally, if it was to stay
there that long. So he influenced all of us to the point
that we decided, well, let's find out about it.
I was told about the granite society — it has a funny
name which I don't remember. I wrote to them and said,
"How many colors of natural granite are there?" They wrote
back, "Twenty-seven." Well, I knew better than that. I
just knew that that was not enough. I knew also that even
if we had to deal with twenty-seven, that, limited though
it might be, by getting different textures, which will last
forever on the granite — one polished, one what they call
sand finish, and another that they called natural cleavage —
that we could get three different colors and three different
values out of each of the separate basic colors. But I
wasn't satisfied that that was enough. In about a year
and a half, long after I'd started the job, I found 143
colors, which is some difference.
GOODWIN: All around the world?
SHEETS: All around the world. I had friends in Europe and
brokers all over who handled marbles and whatnot whom I'd
been buying things from, and everybody made a game out of
it. They started searching, and when the samples came in,
I couldn't believe it.
Well, I went down to Notre Dame, after meeting the
architects on that first trip, and met Father [Theodore M.]
Hesburgh and his marvelous assistant, Father [Edmund P.]
Joyce. I discussed with them the whole idea of this project.
They were fascinating. First, Father Hesburgh really shocked
me by saying, when I asked them what they had in mind in the
way of subject matter, "Millard, that's up to you. We're
not going in any way to interfere." Well, I said, "My
goodness, this is a huge university, and it's a Catholic
university. I should think you'd be deeply concerned with
the kind of subject matter." "No, we have to depend upon
you, because we've selected you. That's your responsibility."
Well, I said, "Haven't you even a little glimmer of a
suggestion or an idea?" And they said no. They said, "As
a matter of fact, if you want to do something abstract,
that's up to you. If you want to do something that's repre-
sentational, that's up to you. If you want to do something
religious, that's up to you. But we want your interpretation."
Well, it was a little bit like my Ahmanson experience,
except this was so definitely one thing that it really gave
me pause to think. We discussed, quite at length, the idea
of granite, and we had a marvelous day really, the three of
us together, talking about this whole thing. We had lunch,
after we'd had a couple of nice martinis, and after lunch
Father Hesburgh suddenly said, "Well, Millard, it's all
set. We're going to go, is that right?" I was rather
startled, and I looked over and I said, "Well, just a
minute. I'm honored that you're pleased that I'm going to
do it, that you want me to do it, but we haven't discussed
any of the really down-to-earth problems. For instance,
how much is such a thing going to cost in granite? It's
so wild to consider the combination of the hardness and
the difficulty of using this material, the weight of it in
the building, I have no idea right off the top of my head
to give you an answer. I'm too old to spend a year designing
something that you can't afford to put up, because I can't
waste a year, even though I'm terribly excited about the
"Well," he said, "give me just a wild, way outside
kind of a figure, what you think it would cost to execute
this thing." I said, "Well, not counting my part in it at
all, but just the actual mechanics and the unbelievable
engineering and everything else that is involved, it could
run $350,000. I don't know — I'm just guessing." And of
course we're talking about almost fifteen years ago, when
money was a little different than it is now. He said, "All
right, now we've passed that hurdle." I said, "What do you
mean, we've passed that hurdle?" He said, "That's my re- -
sponsibility, I'll get the money — I don't care what it costs.
Now, about your fee?" I said, "Well, that's not going to be
too difficult. I can give you some kind of a fee," and I
threw out kind of a loose figure. I wasn't very smart — it
was a little low, quite a little low, but anyway I suggested
it. He said, "Now we've passed that hurdle. Let's go. You
go back to California and you do your research and come up
with your idea, or ideas if you want to submit a couple of
ideas; then let me know, and come back, and we'll look at
them, and we'll present them to the senate." They have an
interesting group there: it would be like the head profes-
sors of the university that form the senate. He said,
"Now, they're not going to be the ones that are going to
be critics. We want to get them excited about it. If
they have some suggestions and so forth, we'll be happy
to have that, but that's all there'll be to that."
"Well," I said, "now there's one other thing I'd like
to discuss with you before I start home and get into this
thing. I am not a Roman Catholic. I have no prejudice
whatsoever toward any religion or any faith or any race,
but I'm not a Roman Catholic, and on top of that I've just
finished a huge Scottish Rite cathedral, a Masonic temple.
in Los Angeles. I just don't want to go on under any false
colors. You know, I'm not a Mason, and I'm not a Catholic.
Now, if these things don't interfere, that's fine." Father
Hesburgh laughed — he just laughed out loud — and he said,
"Well, you know, the Masons and the Catholics used to fight
a little but, what the hell. I did a lot of research on you,
I was in California about four months ago doing a Catholic
motion picture, and while I was out there I did a lot of
research on you, and I knew you were building that thing.
There's just one promise that I want you to make: that is,
that some day, in my street clothes, you'll take me through
it. [laughter]" I'm delighted — and forget it. I want to
tell you something: Even if I have to get an infidel, I'm
going to get who I want to do this job. And you're my
So we became very, very good friends, as I did par-
ticularly with Father Joyce. Oh, what a pair of guys. And
the whole staff was marvelous. I came back and I made three
different sketches, different ideas, different scale. I
took them back, and they all just landed on the one that
was similar to the one we finally did. It was my choice,
GOODWIN: What were your three ideas?
SHEETS: Well, one idea was really based upon something I
read. They gave me a book on Notre Dame, and one of the
professors had written a very unusual concept of the Sermon
on the Mount. I thought of a very dynamic, full-length
Christ, with a very striking pose, standing on a rock with
the multitude below. It could have been an interesting
mural--! really think it could have been. It would have
been more representational than the one we finally did.
But I think it could have been interesting. It might have
been a lot more difficult to do in granite, although I
think I could have done it.
The second one was a processional idea, which was
simply a movement of figures up against the whole tower.
I had suggested there the figure of Christ with his arms
in the preaching position, the disciples' heads cutting
across his chest, and then his body disappearing down into
the processional, as an idea. That was the one that they
The third one was an interesting one. It wasn't a
tree, but it was sort of like a tree shape, with limblike
forms. I had groups of scholars on these different limbs.
It was architecturally quite interesting, but I think it
was static as compared to the one we finally did.
Anyway, we had a great meeting, and they all said that
they really thought this one was the one that seemed to
express the whole thing, as far as they were concerned.
I think they were delighted that I used the figure of
Christ with the disciples. Then I had a processional of
figures that are not meant really to represent individual
scholars, but by the costumes to more or less suggest
something of the ancients and coming up through the ages.
I don't know whether you've seen it, but it has a flow of
GOODWIN: Just a small magazine reproduction.
SHEETS: That's the one also that the architects liked.
I went both to Notre Dame first, and then I went on back
to the architects. They were very excited about that one.
So then I came back and developed a very much more complete
and better-thought-out design, twice the scale, I think.
The second painting 1 made was probably five feet high,
something like that. I took it back, and it was approved.
Of course I kept in mind while I was making this
sketch what I might, within reason, be able to get in the
way of granite. I'd already begun to get a lot of the
samples. But then the problem was to really start tying
these things down, and it took about a year to do all the
preliminary work. When you get on this scale, you just
can't believe the complications.
First of all, my studio was only fifty feet wide and
twenty-five feet high on the long wall, and that little
extra eighteen feet in the sixty-eight foot width posed a
miserable problem because every time I drew it I had to
keep moving the paper, rolling up one end or the other,
plus the fact that I could only mount two sections, ten
feet high each, at a time. In order to get a cartoon
that was going to be absolutely accurate, because at no
time would I ever see the whole thing — no way to see the
whole thing — I had to rent the Pan Pacific Auditoriiom. I
glued together, I guess, the largest piece of paper that's
been put together around here in a long time. On the floor
of the Pan Pacific Auditorium, we put paper together in
ten-foot-wide sheets. We had enough to make it 134 feet
high and 68 feet wide. Then, with just the same kind of
an instrument that a surveyor uses, we set up the tripod
and set perfect four-square corners. Then we took ten-
foot modules, vertically and horizontally, and used our
snap lines to make a perfect grid of ten-foot squares all
over the entire thing. Then we went over that with pencil
so it would never get erased. It had to be that accurate.
You just couldn't play around with quarters of inches.
Then I took by measurement all of the basic lines in my
design, and there were a lot of very powerful diagonal
lines as well as cross lines and vertical lines. Every-
thing we could do, we did by accurate measurement. We
laid all those lines in on the floor of this big Pan Pacific
Auditorium, and the cartoon then was basically established.
The square lines and all the main points were very well
Then I took the cartoon all apart and cut it into
horizontal strips ten feet high. These strips were all
numbered. There were some fourteen or fifteen strips.
about 134 feet with extra space for notation and whatnot.
We brought them back to the studio, and then I had photo-
graphs made of my sketch. I had slides made for every
ten-foot square in the entire thing so that I could project
each ten-foot strip on the grid exactly right. All I had
to do was get it dead center on the ten feet, horizontally
and vertically, and know that I had no distortion. It made
a simple problem of getting a very accurate drawing then on
a design that I never would see as one piece. I keep
pointing this out because, as the process goes forward,
you can see the complexity of all this.
When that was finished, I had all these small slabs of
granite finished in the different textures that I wanted,
arranged on a huge panel that had two tilted sides and
rolled around on wheels. By having all these things in
sequence — and I had a total of almost 200 colors, counting
the different textures — I could take these colors and lay
them against a still larger sketch, which was not so much
in detail but was in accurate color. We took the original
sketch and we took the granites, and we matched those
granites as best we could and pulled it together that way.
Then we worked back the other way. We'd take the
granites, after the sketch was completed and put up where
we could work with it regularly without having to unroll
it or anything, and we'd just take a piece of granite and
hold it up to where it looked right. Then we'd take that
granite, and we'd carry that up on the scaffold with us.
We had one row across at the top and one row underneath
it. We went up to the top, and starting with each color,
we matched it and even gave it some of the same texture
as the granite, so it wouldn't look just like a slick
thing. We painted every single area of this huge design.
Of course, it had to be stylized to the point that you
couldn't carry a color over and then spit on it and get
it soft or darker or lighter. You had to have it abso-
lutely right, color against color. There's no deviation —
We painted the top strip and the strip underneath it,
and then we looked at that longingly and finally said,
"Well, here we go." We took the top strip down, shipped
it back to Cold Spring, Minnesota, and moved the bottom
strip up to where the top one was and put the next one
under it and painted that one. Strip by strip, we always
had the one that was above it to match it to, but we had
to do the whole thing without seeing it again. No, that's
not true. We got it all painted, and by this time the
strips were all back there, and the granite men had been
making their analysis of areas: so much cubage for this,
so much cubage for that. They got all their amounts of
granites as these strips came back. They were all numbered
so they knew the exact pieces of granite and everything
else. They then started bringing granite from all over
the world .
Well, when I got through with the bottom panel, I
went back to Cold Spring, Minnesota, and we pasted the
whole cartoon again, as we had done the first time, on
the floor of a big gymnasium we rented. By climbing up
on the grid above it, looking down — though I couldn't get
a really good view way up there as I was only about oh,
thirty-five, forty feet up — I could look down and get a
fairly good sense of the whole design, and I knew it was
working. Then I had Sue Hertel come up, and we spent
three days there, where I did nothing but stand up on
the grid, and she moved pieces of granite around on top
of the cartoon to see if I could locate them against the
color of the cartoon. If I couldn't locate them, then it
was a success. With down light, there were no shadows.
After we'd done all of that, then piece by piece,
we cut it up again, and the granite craftsmen started
the actual production, which took two years. I used to
commute up there about every four weeks, the year around,
winter, summer, and we gradually got the project going.
GOODWIN: How big were the pieces, the individual tiles?
SHEETS: Well, they varied enormously. They're not tile—
they're solid granite. I'll put it this way: we had to
end up always with a piece of granite six inches thick,
two inches thick attached to four inches of concrete
behind the granite. The granite was formed into large
units approximately 6x8 feet, irregular in shape, in
order to follow contours of figures in the design. Each
color and value change was cut out of a separate piece
of granite, whether two inches thick or the full six inches
The architects and engineers and I spent several
months determining the best method of attaching the granite
to the building. It was agreed by our collaboration that
if the granite was backed directly by concrete, that in
approximately sixty years the difference in expansion and
contraction between granite and concrete would separate
the bond. Due to the extreme changes in the weather in
Indiana, we decided we would not cast the granite on the
concrete. The engineers told us to imbed stainless steel
pins in the back of each piece of granite. Holes were
drilled slightly larger than the pins, and the pins were
then dry-packed into the granite. Depending upon the size
of each piece of granite, the number of pins in each piece
varied from two to seventy-five <
After each granite segment had the pins installed,
the granite was placed face down upon a level surface and
the adjoining granite was placed against the pieces that
fitted like a jigsaw puzzle to produce the overall design.
These segments were then covered on the back side by a
plastic blanket one-quarter of an inch thick. The pins
were forced through the plastic, so the plastic was tightly
placed against the granite. A metal edge six inches thick
was then shaped around each area that I have outlined as
being approximately six feet by eight feet. Concrete was
then poured to the level of the six-inch border and allowed
to cure. In the detail of Christ's head, that was five feet
high, the individual pieces varied from twelve inches to
several square feet. In Christ's head there were 123 pieces
carefully cut to shape, and the surrounding shapes fitted
perfectly to each shape. Each of the units 6x8 feet
irregular in shape were fitted together, numbered, and
made ready for shipping from Cold Spring, Minnesota, to
South Bend, Indiana.
There were many engineering details I have not des-
cribed to avoid sheer action with pins and to assure a
perfect flat surface in the casings, but suffice to say
the process was correct. The only maintenance on the
mural will be grouting between the large units every
twenty years comparable to the maintenance of all granite
buildings in severe weather. There will be no change in
color or value in centuries if the building survives.
Well, finally, when they had about thirty or forty
feet of the full width of the stone together, I was really
kind of scared. I said to myself and then to them, "How
do we know this thing is going to carry a half a mile? I
know my sketch, but I'd love to see a finished section of
the stone." That kind of material was so heavy that I
rarely saw two sections of it together — I mean two 8x8
or 6 X 6 pieces. They were scattered all over, and there
was no way to move them. I could only look at a piece of
a head here and a piece of a nose there. I'll tell you,
it was a hell of a problem to visualize completely the
total effect of the mural. So finally I persuaded them
to rent some bleachers, and we put them down below a water
tower. And with a 4 5-degree angle, we put heavy, very
heavy plywood on the bleachers, and then we laid these
TAPE NUMBER: IX, SIDE ONE
JANUARY 13, 1977
GOODWIN: We're continuing a discussion of the preparation
of the library mural at the University of Notre Dame which
was finished in 1963. We're just at the point where Mr.
Sheets is in Minnesota, and he's trying to get an idea of
what the effect of the full mural will be once it's in
place. He hasn't had the opportunity yet to see it that
way. I think that's about right.
SHEETS: That's correct, George. I think there are two
points to make in picking up where we left off: first,
the necessity of trying to see how well the pieces worked
together, because I'd never seen pieces larger than 6 feet
X 6 or 7 feet. I had not seen even a full head put to-
gether, except in a few instances. I also wanted to see
how it would carry, how the style we were using and the
values we were using would carry — knowing that it would
have to carry for some half-mile effectively—and at the
same time be interesting and exciting when you came up
close to it. So for this reason we, as I told you, rented
the bleachers, put heavy plywood against the seats at a
45-degree angle and had large sections of the mural set up
against them. At this point, I'm about to climb up a water
tower some ninety feet high. It's in the winter, and there's
a pretty good wind blowing. From the ground it looked like
a very simple climb because the ladder was not too vertical.
It had a slight tilt to it, and it had railings, and it went
up to a deck. I hadn't taken the trouble to walk around to
the other side of the tower to see that the ladder changed
then to just iron rungs, straight up, for the balance of the
ninety feet, some seventy feet. Well, at the last minute.
Father Joyce, who is the assistant to the president at Notre
Dame, said, "I'm going with you." I said, "Well, Father,
you can't go in that beautiful robe and your tricornered
hat. You couldn't do it." He said, "Yes, I'm going to do
it." Finally I persuaded him to leave his hat, and we
started up. I knew he was with me all the way because
every time I stopped for a little bit of breath I'd feel
his hand hit my foot. I guess his being there kept me
going up, because it was a pretty darned difficult climb.
It was so cold and my hands felt so numb that I didn't know
for sure I could even hang onto the darn rungs. But we got
to the top, and then we were shocked, because when we
reached the top it was not flat; it was pyramid-shaped.
It went up to a center point. It was metal, and there
wasn't too much to hang onto. There were two or three
little rungs as you went up, two or three little ones,
and that was all.
Well, we were shocked when we got to the very top of
the peak to see that we were still so far back from the
edge of the tower that we couldn't look down on the mural.
so we had to descend on the other side, really on our
bellies, sliding down slowly toward the edge and hanging
our heads over the edge, which I didn't enjoy a bit. I've
never been bothered terribly by high places , but I certainly
wasn't pleased with the experience. Father Joyce, who cer-
tainly was a gutsy man, as far as I'm concerned, completely
messed up the beautiful costume that he wore. It was
completely smeared with dirt and soot from that roof. Well,
we were overjoyed in spite of the fact that we were dirty
and cold, because we could tell that the mural was going
to carry. It was of immeasurable help to see it from that
distance. On reflection, of course, what we should have
done was rent a helicopter, which would have been a very
simple matter to climb up to any height. But we didn't
think of that, and I don't know that there was a helicopter
nearby, but in any case, we made it.
Then coming back was worse than going up, but as you
can see, we made it, although I think that descent was one
of the toughest jobs that I ever did, because looking down
and then having to back up over that point again and slide
down the other side was more than I would like to do every
Well, that satisfied me at least to the point that I
felt that the mural was going to carry. With the value
range that I had worked out, I felt that the overall
design would work.
Over the year or year and a half that it took to
complete the fabrication, I made trips about every month
and checked on details. Once the granite cutters under-
stood the problem thoroughly, they were magnificent in the
way they worked things out. It was a strange circumstance
that the entire town of Cold Spring, Minnesota, is made up
of Roman Catholic people. The dedication that those people
had toward this job, which they insisted on calling the
Eighth Wonder of the World, because of its size and the
fact that they'd never had contact with anything like this,
produced a dedication that was tremendous. It probably was
something akin to the spirit that some of the cities that
built great cathedrals might have felt, although there it
would go on for 100 years or more. I think the whole city
was aroused, and it's my understanding that most of the
people in the city came down to the dedication at Notre
Dame when it took place. But the interesting thing was
that inch by inch, as this whole job was finished, there
wasn't a single accident during the entire project; not
one piece was broken. After the sections were once put
together, it was extraordinary that they could be stored.
I don't know off the top of my head what 68 x 134 is in
GOODWIN: I think it was something like 9,000 square feet.
SHEETS: It's about 9,000 square feet, and just 9,000 square
feet strung out — even a lot of it outdoors in the winter
because of the fact that there wasn't enough room inside
the buildings — made it look like an enormous graveyard,
really, with all these pieces of granite all over the
place. It was a very exciting experience.
When we loaded the sections to take them to Notre Dame,
it was still wintertime. Everyone was somewhat concerned
about it, although there was a cover over the outside and
elevators that went up the face of the big tower. It was
still minus-zero and only occasionally slightly above-zero
weather. These trucks had to be loaded with two major
pieces, one on either side tilted together at the top,
much as they load heavy glass or big glass panels. The
trucks proceeded from Cold Spring, Minnesota, some 67
miles, I think it was, down to South Bend, Indiana, through
those icy roads. They arrived at the job exactly at a cer-
tain time that was preplanned. The elevator took them
right off of the truck bed, and lifted them up to their
place, starting from the bottom. They were welded imme-
diately to the structural iron that protruded from the
tower, welded directly to the building piece by piece.
So it meant that just as an army has to plan its
movements, this whole operation had to be planned. A
truck left at a certain hour to arrive at a certain hour,
in order to keep the work going smoothly forward. They
would then take each section right off the truck and up
to its place. The right amount of time was planned.
between trucks, of course, for the welding, and this
schedule followed right up the building. It was a con-
tinuous process, twenty-four hours a day, in the neigh-
borhood of seven or eight weeks in that final operation.
Of course, it was all done under cover. You couldn't see
a thing. No one could tell what the mural was about.
GOODWIN: Why was it done under cover?
SHEETS: Oh, because of the freezing weather. They had
the entire elevator covered with a heavy plastic and tar
paper covering, so they could heat it. Otherwise, the
men couldn't even have worked on the shaft.
GOODWIN: It wasn't for the purpose of surprise?
SHEETS: No, it was not. It was just there was no other
way to do it. Then they did plan a surprise. They planned
to unveil it before they took the elevator out. This was
an exterior elevator, of course that was removed piece by
piece as it came down with all of the scaffolding. As
that came down, they dropped a huge black plastic sheet
from the top and brought it down the full length. They
had worked out a very clever device for unveiling this,
having this great plastic sheet come down on rings on some
heavy cables at the right moment. I was told all about
the mechanics of this thing, and I was invited to come
to the opening .
It was at the opening when they had a formal dedica-
tion, of course, plus a ceremony at which they gave the
doctorate degrees for Notre Dame that year. They awarded
me a doctorate degree, an LLD honorary degree. But I was
excited about the idea of this thing being unfurled and
at the same time about half-scared as no one had ever seen
This is the way we thought it was to be when we started
from California, my wife and I, to go back for the unveiling.
We met Mr. [Warren T.] Mosman (who represented the architects
in helping put this whole idea together) and his wife in
Chicago, and then we flew from there to South Bend together.
As we got out of the airplane, from California to Chicago,
I saw the Chicago Tribune lying around on various sales
shelves , and on the front page was my huge mural in full
color. [laughter] I thought, "How in the world could
they ever have taken such a picture? They must have put
it together from the original sketch." Until I looked a
second time and realized that it was actually the building.
What had happened was that they had a small twister the day
before the dedication, and the twister had simply taken the
tarpaulin that covered it off into space, and they never
even found pieces of it. So it was unveiled unceremoniously
the day before by the elements. It made it perhaps less
dramatic, but I felt better having looked at that photo-
graph before we got to South Bend, to realize that it did
read well, and it was a very exciting experience.
GOODWIN: What kind of feeling did you have, or do you
still have, about that work?
SHEETS: I feel very good about it. I feel good about it
because I know that it isn't going to change. It certainly
isn't going to get any better, but it can't get any worse
because, being in granite, it's a timeless material. There
is just nothing that will bother it. I told you how compli-
cated it was the way the engineers and we worked it out so
that there never could be any separation from the concrete
and the building. The only thing that will have to be done,
probably every twenty years, is to grout between those major
stones. But that has to be done in any building in the
East, whether it's in New York or South Bend or Chicago.
The elements require a regrouting about every twenty years
in a granite building. The granite itself, however, will
never be in any way discolored. It's so hard and so dense
that whatever stain would come on it would be normally
washed off by the winter rain and by the wind and whatnot.
I feel very good about it because I think it does
actually work as a mural in relation to the architecture.
One of the most interesting ways to approach it is from
the ground on the main axis. There's a long reflection
pool, several hundred feet long, that extends almost to
the entrance door itself, probably 100 feet short. From
a long distance away, you get a very interesting play of
the reflection of the mural in the pool . The pool seems
to give it an extra dimension.
But the color is what I think is most exciting. I
think it would be impossible to make bad color relation-
ships with the natural granites. My feeling is that the
color is very close to the frescoes of Piero della
Francesca in the actual color harmony. You feel it in
any earthen problem of course, but Piero della Francesca
certainly did get some beautiful nuances of color that
many other fresco painters did not get to the same degree.
GOODWIN: Is that something you sought to achieve?
SHEETS: Well, to a degree I certainly wasn't conscious,
I think, of any particular artist, but I wanted as rich,
warm, cool feeling as I could get, which I think he had
to such a brilliant degree. He used intense color against
muted colors, greyed colors, and greys and whites, which
made the few colors that he used very intense and more
striking than if he'd had a great deal of color throughout.
Well, in this mural the big problem was not getting the
color harmony; it was getting values that would be abso-
lutely right and carry. Sometimes the value that you
wanted to use was so close that you wavered a long time
for fear that it might not really read. I found that the
absoluteness of each color made it a very demanding
decision. At the same time, it made it more telling than
if you were working in paint or some medium where you
could move things around a little bit. It had a kind of
striking simplicity, much as you get in graphic work today.
I think one of the reasons graphic exhibitions are
more interesting than many painting exhibitions is that
graphics — just the very discipline of the positive use of
color in a specific way, one against the other — is more
striking than when a painter can fool around, scumble
around a little bit more. Obviously one can't do always
the same thing in one medium or another. But I think this
material had the same effect. In a mosaic, you can get
almost any juxtaposition of color by vibrating the dif-
ferent colors together. In this instance, you make a
final selection, and it is so final, there's no way you
can change it.
I really feel very pleased with it. I think that the
people who go there feel something very unusual. It's not
just the size. I think the size, of course, is bound to
be impressive, if it isn't a weak thing.
GOODWIN: Do you feel it has a spiritual impact?
SHEETS: I do. I think it has a definite lift. As you
know, I'm sure, there's a kind of irony about it. The
football stadium is very important at South Bend, and this
mural is on a direct axis with it. If you look from one
end of the football field down across the scoreboard, what
you see above the scoreboard is the very upper part of the
Christ with arms extended. So the Notre Dame students
immediately dubbed it "Touchdown Christ." They do that
in a kind of a loving way, and they felt they really had
something, because they didn't lose a game for the first
three and a half years in the coliseum, [laughter] but
they finally found that they were not invincible. It was
proven they were not.
But it's a mural that I'm very proud of, not just
because of the size, partly because it was a very difficult
problem in a new material that nobody had ever done anything
with before, partly the fact that we could solve it and make
it work and at the same time make it highly decorative, and
also because I think it does give you a sense of the meaning
of the teacher, the scholar, which of course symbolizes the
GOODWIN: What did it eventually cost?
SHEETS: Well, that's interesting. I think I told you
earlier when I mentioned what I thought it might cost
Father Hesburgh said, "Well, now we've passed that point."
SHEETS: Well, an interesting thing happened, and I was so
excited when it happened. They reproduced a photograph of
my sketch in the alumni magazine, and they asked the alumni
to contribute toward this mural. In the first six weeks,
they had somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty or seventy
thousand dollars that had come in. While I was in conver-
sation with Father Hesburgh one day on the telephone, he
said that things were going beautifully, that a certain
great friend of the college, a graduate from there, a
lawyer in Chicago, had given the first check, which was
for $40,000. The other checks had come in ranging any-
where from $10 to $200 or $300 or $400 and two or three
for $1,000. They were coming in every day. He said,
"We just have no question about it." Well, about two
weeks after that, this same gentleman from Chicago called
and said, "Father Hesburgh, how much have we got now? How
are we doing?" He said, "Well, we're well over the $100,000
mark." He said, "Would it be a bad thing. Father Hesburgh,
if you either returned the money or could get permission
to use it for something else if I gave the whole thing?"
Father Hesburgh said he was certain he could work it out,
and this one man gave the entire mural.
GOODWIN: Do you remember who that was?
SHEETS: It was Mark Egan, from Chicago. I've corresponded
with him, and he came to the dedication. He was so excited
about the whole thing that I thought he was going to faint.
He was probably in his middle or early fifties and a
charming man. There's a very nice bronze tablet there
that tells about his gift. But the final mural, you asked
what it finally cost. Including my fee, we actually did
this job for just slightly over a quarter of a million
GOODWIN: That was much less than your original guess.
SHEETS: It was better than $150,000 less than I thought.
I had to make a wild guess because there was no way of
knowing. Of course, the reason for that is surely the
fact that being executed up at Cold Spring, and due to
the fact that these people were all members of the Roman
Catholic church, and the fact that the people that owned
the quarries were also Catholic, I think that they must
have given a great deal of themselves in addition and
beyond whatever they were paid. I know that Saturdays,
Sundays, and holidays meant nothing to those people.
They worked right straight through. There was so much
experimental work that had to be done on this. We had
to find ways to do it right. To carve the lines where
we had used, of necessity, certain lines in the design,
and to know exactly what would be absolutely permanent
with which to fill those lines, for, perhaps, a soft
grey line was something that we had to do a great deal
of experimenting with. I just marvel at the way they
cut, the precision with which they cut the details. I
think in the Christ's face there were something like 200
pieces or perhaps more. I've forgotten. I get mixed up
on it. I think it's about 200 and some separate pieces
in the head, although it's not a complex head. It's very
simple, and it reads extremely well. I don't know whether
you've seen a good reproduction of it, but it reads very
well. To get expression into that and to get it so that
it doesn't look like you're just trying to paint, but to
do it with the material, as you see in some of the great
early mosaics and that kind of thing, I think they did an
exquisite job. They really knew that when I drew a line
with a pencil that I didn't want it to waver around, be-
cause in this thing you couldn't waver. The small hands
were three feet long, and you've got to get your forms to
the point to where you can not only handle them in the
material but where they will have some sensitivity and
some feeling — feet, hands, heads, and then the gesture
of bodies, and the whole thing. I think they did an
GOODWIN: Do you remember how many figures there are?
SHEETS: Oh, goodness, just off the top of my head, I
would have to say forty or forty-five or fifty figures
in various kinds of costumes, just to symbolize something
in the way of passing of time without trying to get literal
or detailed about it. There's a sense of the classical and
then coming on through. It's something that doesn't seem
to mystify anyone. At the same time I don't think anyone
has tried to tie it down into some very narrow meaning.
One of the most interesting things that happened was
that I found, as I told you, 143 colors instead of only 27.
There was one color that I really felt hopeless about. I
didn't expect granite to look like gold, but I wanted
something in the gamut of all the other colors that would
have kind of gold appearance. Everywhere I went, I was
told by everyone this is impossible to find. I'd been in
Europe on another matter, and I'd pushed this gold thing
as far as I knew how to push it with friends of mine,
brokers in marbles and granites and so on. I hadn't been
home more than about six weeks when I received a little
package in the mail. It was a beautiful piece of gold
granite — I couldn't believe it — and a letter with it
stating this had come from Brazil. The man knew nothing
about the present whereabouts of the quarry, because he
hadn't heard of this quarry. Well, I sent cables to South
America and found out that this quarry was there, all
right, but it had not been worked for over twenty-five
years. I was told there was no way we could get any
material out of it. Not being satisfied, I sent more
cables and asked a broker in South America to see if, by
any chance, they could locate a block of this material
somewhere that hadn't been chopped up — maybe not a per-
fect block, but to see if they could fine one. In three
months I had a cable that they had found a block, a very
beautiful big block. We had it shipped to Cold Spring,
Minnesota, and it's hard to believe this, but by cutting
it the inch-and-a-half thickness, I think it was, which
was the finest we used, we came out with about four square
feet left, more than we actually needed, in the various
places that I've used this gold. I mean, it's an uncanny
kind of story.
GOODWIN: Was it in any way a religious experience for
you, having to do this mural?
SHEETS: I think so. I've always had a deep sense of some-
thing much bigger than life itself, something that hangs
this whole thing together. I felt that in the spirit of
trying to express a library, and at the same time some of
the feeling that these people have, particularly in their
Catholic religion, that it was a matter of real dedication.
I think everybody involved couldn't help feeling that way.
GOODWIN: Has Notre Dame since had any large-scale art
work added to the campus?
SHEETS: Not that I know of. They are building a beautiful
museum there. This was, I think, somewhat stimulated by
this big mural, and also by the fact that [Ivan] Mestrovic ,
the great Yugoslavian sculptor, was at Notre Dame for the
last seven or eight years of his life. They built him the
most beautiful studio, and he was really artist-in-residence ,
but he taught a few students sculpture. He was a very
powerful influence on the college. He was terribly
excited about this whole thing, and he saw the early
sketches and was most enthusiastic. He died before the
mural was finished, but he was a great man. The people
who were in the art department and who were running the
museum were first-rate people who had really strong
feelings about building a fine gallery there. They are
collecting some very fine things in many fields — not only
painting and sculpture, but in primitive art and in
graphics. It's a very lively place and I think it's a
very fine school. I like the spirit. We know about
their football and basketball teams, but there seems to
be a real air of dedication there.
GOODWIN: Have you been back a few times since?
SHEETS: I've been back a couple of times, and I enjoy
it very much. I hear constantly from both Father Hesburgh
and Father Joyce and a few of the other people that I've
known there .
GOODWIN: Have you worked in granite again?
SHEETS: Not to the same degree. I've used a lot of granite
as background, choosing a very strong, interesting value, a
dark black or a brilliant, deep red or sometimes even deep
green into which I inlay mosaics. Though it's hard to cut
out and fit the mosaics in, I like it very much as a real
part of a decoration. As I told you the other day, rather
than the rectangle, I think it's sometimes much more
beautiful to do this. I love granite in that sense. I've
used granite in a lot of buildings. But I haven't done
another mural .
GOODWIN: Let's talk about another project that was com-
pleted around this time, 1965, the mosaic mural for the
National Shrine in Washington, D.C.
SHEETS: Well, that was a tremendously interesting project.
I was asked by the architect to come to Washington to dis-
cuss the possibility of doing this dome over the main altar.
It's a lOO-foot-diameter dome, and the spring line is
at 100 feet in the air. It's a very powerful, big
church. I think it's the sixth largest church in the
world. I had no idea until I went back there what they
were doing. It's called the National Shrine, the Catholic
shrine, and just the nave itself is exactly the size of
a football field, 100 by 300 feet. On the two sides,
there are aisles that are probably 30 feet wide that
extend on either side of the main columns that support
the building. Then outside of those side aisles are
enormous chapels, representing the different countries
of the world. It's really an international shrine,
because many of the European countries and many of the
others, like Mexico and South America, have special
shrines that their country has given. So there must be
thirty such shrines in addition to the main church. The
church was built underground, beneath the floor, and they
called it "The Flat Top" for thirty or forty years in
Washington. And they used the basements, what are now
the basements of the church, for their various ceremonies.
It was actually a church. Then when they started the
cathedral, of course they have great educational facilities
and that kind of thing underground. It's an enormous
Well, this dome sits well back from the nave. In
fact, like a few other cathedrals I've visited, it's
probably at least 100 feet from the end of the nave or
the altar rail back to the main altar where the big
baldachino goes up some 60 feet with the dome above it.
They asked me to do the apocalypse concept for this dome,
and I made a design which they liked. It has the theme
of the apocalypse: the Lamb of God in the center, and
then the great saints, which I formed into a huge cross.
Between that are the symbols which are involved. Then
in the pendentives are the various angels and whatnot.
It's a very simple design basically, although I
found when we started to make the drawings here, we
were again up on a big scale, thirty-foot figures, with
the figures obviously being drawn for a dome shape, a
dome volume. It's a totally different problem than
working on a flat surface. Never having done a big
dome before, I read everything I could read about all
the geometry that was involved and did all the mathe-
matics that I could get help on to work it all out to
be sure that I was right.
Obviously a dome has a series of wedgelike shapes
that also are bulging in the middle of each wedge. When
you peel an orange, and pull the sections open, they're
not just straight lines. There has to be a bow in them
so they will fit the form. I made all the attempts that
I could and finally worked out one of these foxrms,
realizing that sometimes a head, half of a head, or part
of a head would be on one edge of a section, and then on
the next section, perhaps three feet apart, would be the
rest of the head. It was a real interesting problem to
I was steaming up about it one night at a dinner
party, the complexity of it, sort of talking to myself,
and there was a young mathematician there teaching at
Pomona College. He said, "Millard, why don't you come
down and let me work it out on the computer for you?"
So I went down to see if I was right, to have it verified.
It turned out that we were right to an exact quarter of
an inch on this first big segment. From then on we used
the computer. It was so easy. He said, "I can tell you
where you are within a quarter of an inch anyplace on
the dome." He ran that computer for about three hours,
and we had all of the figures we needed to work from. It
really did make an interesting departure from the old way
of doing it. The reason we had to be so accurate was
that we had to send these cartoons — these final, finished
cartoons — to Germany, where the dome was executed. The
church wanted to let that contract separately, and there
was no way that we could compete in this country finan-
cially, with the cost of our labor at that time, to do
it here. I wanted very much to do it here. But I must
say, they did a fantastic job. I love every bit of the
execution and the way it was done in Germany. It was
quite superior to what I had been having done in Italy.
I thought that in their technique they really did grasp
everything we were trying to get.
The little sketch that we're looking at here in this
catalog* is a flat rendition of the original sketch. But
in the big dome there's tremendous mystery and the feeling
of looking up into a pretty spooky other world up there.
I think that Lamb of God is one of the best things we've
done, in terms of its powerful setting, which you really
can't get from this sketch at all.
GOODWIN: Was there any decoration there previously?
SHEETS: No, the church started out with the idea that
inch by inch and space by space , they would move from
plain surfaces to finished decoration. Now there has
been another dome that has been executed by a French
artist; it's a beautiful dome. They've been talking
to me for some time about doing the main dome, which is
150 feet in diameter. That's down at the entrance of
the church. But that's a matter of approximately three-
quarters of a million dollars just for execution. So
they're looking for a donor for that.
On the other hand, I've done since then a side
chapel to Our Lady, as it's called. There are three
* Millard Sheets . Lang Art Gallery, Scripps College,
March 27-April 29, 1976.
separate rooms, three domes, and a side wall panel that
I found quite an exciting job. It's a more intimate kind
of thing. The main dome in this area is probably twenty-
five feet high. The decoration is such an integral part
of the altar and the whole thing the way it's designed
that I enjoyed doing this very much. A group of figures
move away from the crucifix itself, clear around the dome,
representing virtually every race. It has a very special
mood in it. It's something that I'm very proud of. It's
more intimate. It's a more tender thing, yet it's a
pretty bold thing, if you could see the original. That
sketch does not in any way suggest the power in it. Then
there was a lot of just plain, rich decoration in one
other dome. It didn't have any figurative design. It
was just real rich decoration. It was a lot of fun.
GOODWIN: What do you like most about working in mosaics?
SHEETS: I think there's something very exciting about a
permanent material. It isn't because it's permanent; it's
because it's ungiving. You have to work with it. You've
got to create with finality. As I said, with paint you
can move and push things around, and you can raise it or
lower it in value, and you can brighten it or grey it in
color. In mosaic, you make a decision, just as you do
in the granite. You pick out a piece and you put it next
to another piece. It either speaks to it and it's exciting
and there's a richness, or there's dullness, i think that
mosaic is a wonderful medium in this respect. Also, I
don't necessarily say "primitive" things, but I think I
like things that are stronger in design and less fussy.
I think that the minute that you work in mosaic or you
work in stained glass or you work in granite, you're
committing yourself to something that has to stand on
its own without any prettiness or little pretty sweetening,
GOODWIN: What other artists in the United States are
working in mosaic on such a large scale? I'm not familiar
SHEETS: Well, there are many artists who work in mosaic.
There are quite a few artists who do small panels, par-
ticularly in churches, and occasionally in a commercial
building you'll see an example. But I don't know of any
other artist that has worked in the continuous way that
we have in our group because of the opportunities that I
explained, through Home, and those opportunities lead me
to all these other opportunities. I know that it's the
reason that so many, many very big jobs have come to me.
It is because people from other parts of the country have
seen what we've done with Home. They've been interested
enough to look me up and say, "Come do it." We've really
worked on a national scale in this respect and had oppor-
tunities that have just been continuous.
There are some marvelous people who have done
beautiful things. Jean and Arthur Ames did mosaics
before I ever made a mosaic. I brought them to Claremont
many years ago where Jean taught at Scripps , and they made
beautiful mosaics. They worked together as a team until
Arthur died, but Jean herself has done some marvelous
things on her own, though not in a continuous process.
They'd do maybe one commission every five years or some-
thing like that. There are people I know in various parts
of the country.
There's one company in St. Louis that I should have
thought of first, a company called the Ravenna Mosaic
Company. It's not in Ravenna — it's in St. Louis. It's
a German family, the Heuduck family. They are the first
people that I worked with in a mosaic. The first ones I
ever made, I found out about them and sent my cartoon to
St. Louis. They executed it and came out here and set it.
I think they did at least five or six jobs for me. These
antedated Home Savings. These go way back. I think they
do by far the best commercial work, in the sense that they
do not design themselves but they execute. I'm sure they
could design certain things, but they have never tried to
rival or to compete with the artists, to my knowledge.
They've done a tremendous amount of work. In fact, they
were the people who the church contracted with to execute
the dome. Then they went to Germany, and they hired the
German company and supervised the work. That's why I
know it came out so well, because they knew me and knew
what I wanted, and I spent a great deal of time with them
before they went to Germany. I'm sure if we do this other
very big dome that they would work the same way. They're
remarkable people. So there are mosaics being done, but
not too many artists actually work with it themselves.
GOODWIN: You explained once how a business friend of
yours asked how he might negotiate his fee with a certain
company. What has been your experience in working with a
project as large as, say, the Notre Dame library? What
are the considerations to be examined?
SHEETS : Well , I think we talked about someone who was
really getting into the business. Isn't that right?
SHEETS: If I remember the incident, i think I criticized
the thought that there was just an arbitrary figure he
could pull out of a hat. Wasn't that what we were dis-
SHEETS: I think I said something about that he should
go back and really analyze his own time and his own
background. Well, now in a case like, well, like today,
for example, where I happened to discuss a very interesting
job. I know now, because I'm working in it all the time,
and because I have my own staff, what it's going to cost
pretty nearly to a dollar — obviously not to a dollar, but
let's say if we're talking about $20,000, I know accurately
to within $400 or $500 what it will cost me to have this
mosaic cut. I know how much time I'm going to give to it.
I know how much time my chief assistant will give to work
on the project. I know, of course, what the material
costs. I know my studio overhead. So it's not a very
difficult thing for me to arrive pretty quickly at a
cost point. Now, from that point on you're involved
basically with the kind of clients you have and what
they can afford. Also experienced clients, people like
those in many of the churches, know that there's not a
standard fee, but they know that there is a certain area
that the price will be within.
Now, I'm the first to say that we have ranged a great
deal in price, feeling that at times we wanted very much
to help some organization or institution or even some-
times an individual owner have something because they
really felt deeply that they wanted it. We've done
things for either little profit or no profit and even
on occasions at a loss, but you can't do that continuously.
We know pretty much what it's going to cost.
TAPE NUMBER: IX, SIDE ONE
JANUARY 13, 1977
GOODWIN: Without necessarily identifying a particular
project, can you give me some idea of what kind of fees
you charge for your large-scale commissions?
SHEETS: Are you speaking now of art primarily, or
architecture, or what? Or both?
GOODWIN: Both or either.
SHEETS: Well, I can give you some round figures. Twenty
years ago we used to feel that the average mosaic, to be
almost entirely filled with figurative material, would
cost a client around fifty dollars a square foot. Now,
that has gone to pot because in those days we could buy
the most beautiful glass from Italy, where it's made-
most of the best glass comes from Italy--and we used to
average about three or four dollars per square foot for
color. Certain colors did cost like seven or eight dollars,
but your average would hit about three or four dollars.
That average has gone to eight and nine and ten now, for
example. Gold that used to cost about ten dollars a foot
is now closer to thirty dollars a foot. This is a simple
inflationary fact that there's no way of getting around.
Nobody is about to make his own glass. We stock better
than $50,000 worth of glass at all times in the studio,
just to keep working. So the old fifty-dollar fee for
covering the labor, the design, the installation, and
all of the cutting is simply out of the question. Now,
it is true that by careful designing, with simpler back-
grounds, and then more definitive areas of decoration,
we can keep it perhaps in the sixty-dollar field, but
we're not set on any one of these prices. I used to get
almost anything cut for twenty dollars a foot, and now
it's about thirty dollars average. A person cutting full
time has to be very good to do a couple of square feet on
a head a day, because cutting a head or delicate features,
that kind of thing, is very difficult. [tape recorder
turned off] So that has made a big difference. Then the
biggest change of all is installation. Due to the labor
union control now, we cannot put up a mural ourselves.
By that I mean I can't go out and hire the top mosaic
setter. I have to go through the union.
GOODWIN: What union is that?
SHEETS: The tile setters union [Tile and Marble Helpers
and Shopmen] . We have to go through the union. The
setter has to have a certain kind of assistant at a cer-
tain kind of price. He has to buy the materials in a
different way. I can't furnish the materials. So whereas
it used to cost in the neighborhood of maybe as low as two
dollars a foot to install, it's running now much closer to
ten or eleven dollars a square foot to install. So you
take the increase in the mosaic that I've given you and
the increase in the cutting--almost every one of these
has gone up ten dollars a foot. That's not counting my
time, which has remained much the same as far as the
actual way we've charged. There is the designing and
rendering, and then making the color sketch, and then
getting it approved, then making a full-sized cartoon,
then tracing it again for the cutters. There's a tremen-
dous amount of time involved in it. So really, if I were
offered a job tomorrow, just on a commercial basis, I
don't even think I could talk to anyone under seventy-
five dollars or eighty dollars a foot, whereas in my own
buildings, we do it nearly for cost because of the impor-
tance of the mosaics to the building. Obviously, I've
got to make the money then some other way — fees that I
get for designing architecture and for supervising and
all of that.
Now, painted murals, we used to get, as a rule,
around twenty-five dollars a foot, for a painted mural
done on linen and mounted on the wall, either before it
was painted or after it was painted. We've had to go
up at least to thirty-five dollars now because of just
the increase of one thing alone, and that's the linen
itself. The linen canvas has gone up incredibly — paints
also, and even scaffold rental. These are the things
that are so outside in a sense of what the problem is,
but there they are. Basically, the fees that we get
for the overall design carry the projects.
GOODWIN: What is the minimum amount you would work for?
I know you make exceptions , depending on particular con-
SHEETS: I've done some of my best jobs for nothing. I've
done a great deal of designing for friends, for people
that I admire and like and know will appreciate it. At
the same time, I have a very good annual income based
upon the amount of work that I do . It's income that, by
working those extra hours per day per month, has always
been continuous. But I've done many jobs, like one I'm
doing right now. I'm doing the entrance to a big museum
in Lubbock, Texas, all the architectural interior, I'd
guess you'd have to say, because it's a memorial to a
man that I designed several buildings for who recently
died. In this job I don't think I'll get more than
traveling expenses and $1,000 for a hell of a lot of
work. But, you know, you just have to do it both ways
in this world. That's just part of my way of life. But
I don't think there's a set amount that I would require
to do a job.
First of all, I've found that you never know how
big a job is until you get into it, until you explore it
with your client. I think this is a terribly important
point. Lots of times a client may have something in mind,
and it may be very big or it may be very small. If you
get really inside the project with them and their thinking
and you really analyze the problem with them, from your
experience you know that they're either thinking in too
big terms to do the job or in too small terms. You can
give them a tremendous assist. I think that probably
one of the reasons I've been successful working with
clients all over the country is that I can get together
with clients very quickly and discuss the matter until
we understand each other. We have good ground rules,
and they know that I'm not trying to push a project into
something that it shouldn't be. On the other hand, I've
told people that they're making a terrible mistake not
to conceive of the job in terms that they must conceive
of it to be successful. Certainly in planning architec-
ture, without enough land, you're in trouble today, with
the parking problems and with all the other things that
are necessary. A building just shouldn't come up to a
sidewalk and have no front and no chance for creating a
setting. I mean, lots of times clients don't understand
this. It's a piece of business property, and there it is
right on the street, so why not? Well, sure, why not?
But that's why our streets are dull and why our buildings
are so often mediocre. You can't do much with them. By
the same token, they get very extravagant ideas sometimes
about space. They haven't analyzed their problems to the
point that they know how much they can get out of much
less space to create a building of much better quality
than they would get if they just built a lot of bulk
space. I think this is a hell of the part of the
responsibility of being an artist or a designer, and
I feel that this is not stressed in school to the degree
that it should be.
The word professional means social responsibility.
I think if you're going to be a professional artist you
have to look at a job not from the point of view of how
much you are going to get out of this, but what is the
right solution for the problem. Then your part fits in,
if everything is fair and right. I think this is an
abysmal lack on the part of so many artists ' background
in their training. There's no one that's ever really
brought this to their attention. They get out and they
have all sorts of ideas about wanting to sell paintings
at very good prices without a reputation, without back-
ground. Maybe they have a lot of talent, but if somebody
asks them to do a job, many artists don't even know how
to start talking about it. The result is that the pro-
ject is closed off because of their inability to deal
with the problem. I feel so strongly that an artist
should be trained in the variety of skillful ways, and
certainly one of the ways is to know how to figure a
GOODWIN: Let's continue discussing some of your large
commissions, such as the Garrison Theatre at Claremont,
which was finished in 1966. I believe you mentioned
earlier that this was an example where you gave your
talent to the colleges.
SHEETS: Yes. I think it might be well to tell the
background of that theater, from the point of view
again of how you face a different kind of a problem.
It wasn't merely a matter of being asked to design a
theater. Having been with the colleges many, many
years, I saw many master plans presented to the col-
leges. I saw a few of them accepted and many of them
never accepted because the different colleges couldn't
get together, then even those plans which were accepted
being ignored after about a year or two. It was a dis-
turbing thing to me that people involved in education
couldn't see through this problem and come to grips
with the fact that they were having difficulties within
their own family, and yet they criticized everything
that goes on outside. So finally one time I iifas asked
to discuss a problem with a special committee. This
was when I was on the Scripps board.
I went to the meeting and found out that they were
in great disturbance about what to do around the main
library facility of the colleges, which was surrounded
by a sort of a vacuum. Although the library was sup-
ported by three different colleges, it had no sense of
belonging, let alone being a center. So during the
process of this discussion, it was suggested that I
might see what I could do to pull this thing together.
Well, being somewhat wary and having watched all these
other failures, I presented it to the group this way:
I said, "I'm just going to say first that I'm willing
to do this. I'd like to work out a plan for this whole
area, and I will do it without any obligation to the
college, providing that the various boards are informed
that they will be invited, eventually, to a preview of
this master plan and what I think should happen in terms
of buildings and so forth around this big quadrangle. But
this is without any obligation. The boards do not have
to feel that in any way they should necessarily accept
this. But if they do accept it as a plan, it will be
followed." I wanted it in a legal form that there will
be no more question about it. They had a perfect right
to pay me nothing and turn it down and forget it. Further-
more, they could choose anyone to design any one of these
buildings in the complex, if they followed the master
plan completely--not a style of architecture, but the
basic plan. They agreed, and I did spend a great deal
of money and a heck of a lot of time designing this whole
area. Then I went to a very happy meeting at the
California Club. The trustees lived mostly in the Los
Angeles areas, and they met and accepted the plan. I
made it very clear personally at that meeting, reiterating
the agreement on which this thing had been done before
they accepted it. So everyone knew that that was the
Well, shortly after that, I was called by a man, Mr.
[Robert H.] Garrison, who said, "My wife and I gave twenty
years ago, a considerable amount of money "--when $125,000
would have been a lot of money — "to build a small, experi-
mental theater." He said, "I'm damned mad about it because
nothing's happened. They didn't give us back our money,
on which we could collect interest, even though they
hadn't used it. They've collected the interest, but
nothing has happened. I'm just damned mad about it."
So I got in touch with the president of the Claremont
Colleges, the associated colleges' graduate school, and I
told him. I said, "This is not the right kind of a thing,
and this man's very upset about it." He said, "I know
he's upset, and I don't blame him, but we've never been
able to get anybody off the ground. We've talked to
various groups at different times about what they thought
would constitute an experimental theater. Let's get
together with him."
We did, and he said what he wanted was a theater
that probably wouldn't seat over 275 people and that had
a first-rate stage where they could really do experimental
work, and it would be available to all the different col-
leges. So the board then asked me to proceed as a regular
commission to design the theater. I had a great deal
of fun working with different members of the staff and
with, of course, the people who were giving the money
as well as the college administrative people. I designed
a small theater, and we had excellent estimates of the
cost, which cost was going to be about twice what they
had given originally, to do what they wanted and to do
it very well. It fit into the overall scheme in the
Well, they were practically ready to go ahead with
it when they called in the two directors of the theaters,
one from Pomona College and one from Scripps. Pomona
College particularly just raised the roof. They said,
"We don't want a little theater. We want a bigger
theater. We can't use a little theater like this."
So overnight it became not a small, intimate, experi-
mental theater, but a theater that had to take care of
about 750 people. I was asked then by the board to start
over again and do a theater that would be both intimate
and large. [tape recorder turned off]
The result of this was that I designed a theater
that had entrances from both sides in the middle of the
theater. By lighting the front part of the theater as
the audience would arrive, they had an intimate theater
of about 300 seats. Back of that, going up at a much
steeper degree, there were about 450 seats. Without
even using curtains, it's extraordinary how you can
make that into two theaters, just by lighting the front
or lighting the whole theater. The price then jumped
into five or six times what the original theater was
going to be, way back to the $125,000 of twenty years
ago. Mr. and Mrs. Garrison were extremely liberal.
They gave better than half of the money, and they were
terribly excited about the theater. I designed it then
as a major part of this new plan where the big, heavy
overhang in front would have been a part of a continuous
arcade going the full length of that block. Then it was
to turn and go down the other block and surround this
library with an arcade.
Well, that was part of the plan, so we built it on
that basis. We built it out of brick, which we thought
would be a nice material to use in that whole block.
When we got around to the idea of doing the big mural ,
which I planned from the beginning to do , I realized that
with this tremendous increase in cost on the building and
the fact that in the colleges that kind of thing becomes
really an extra, I went to the people who gave the money
for the theater, and I said, "I will design this, and I
will execute it if you will pay half of the cost with me
of the granite." We did split the cost, and we gave it
to the colleges, the three of us, literally as a gift.
But it made the building complete, and I really am very
pleased with those mosaics because I think they do sym-
bolize three episodes of Shakespeare.
GOODWIN: Right. Which three are they?
SHEETS: Well, you have Cleopatra on the left, and you
have Romeo and Juliet at the top, and then on the right
you have King Lear. I think there's a scale there that's
Now, the disappointment I have in this job is the
fact that at the same time we were building this theater,
they went ahead, the same board, with a plan for the
building on the west, which completely ignored the master
plan. As a result, that arcade, which should have gone
right on down the west side of the complex, is not there,
although there is some hope that they will get money to
complete that whole north block, which will be basically
music, drama, and the arts. Their hope is to get a very
powerful, big building for a museum and for the graduate
art school and a music school in between. There would be
a covered walk the full length of that block, though it
would drop down to a lower height than the height over
the entrance to the theater, which was always planned
that way. It would drop down to about, I think, eighteen
feet, whereas I think we're around twenty-six or twenty-
seven feet high at the theater. That may go ahead, and
that will help.
I also designed a chapel to go in the northeast
corner of that big complex with a whole new concept of
a garden. How much of that will be done, I don't know.
I'm not there to push it anymore, but we'll see. But
that's only one of about fifteen plans that I've seen
ignored. At least we did that one part of it.
As for people who use that [Garrison Theatre] , they've
had several professional theater groups there. For two
summers, I think, they had marvelous theater groups. The
one from England said that the acoustics are about the
best they've ever found. Dr. [Vern 0.] Knudsen from UCLA,
who was a very famous man in acoustics — I think he since
has died — we hired professionally to help us on the
acoustics, and they are excellent. They're just marvelous.
There is a full working stage, which you can do anything
on. We have ample room for building scenery and storing
scenery and all that kind of thing. It's a very fine
working theater in that sense.
GOODWIN: I've seen the theater, but I've never attended
SHEETS: Yes, well, I'd like to get you inside sometime.
GOODWIN: Right. Here's another major commission; mosaics,
I believe, for the Hilton Hotel in Honolulu.
SHEETS: No, that's a tile decoration. I was working for
the Interpace Company, in charge of their design group,
and the Hilton Hotel approached me with the problem of
wanting to symbolize their hotel with the rainbow, which
is the symbol for Hawaii. Well, when I looked at the
hotel and saw that it was 280 feet high and that this
panel between the windows on either side was only 27 feet
wide, I wondered how we were going to get a rainbow into
280 by 27 feet. But we made a lot of sketches and finally
saw that it was possible to do this. I presented the
sketch, in which the rainbow is treated in a semiabstract
way, to the Hilton Hotel people, and they were very
Then we had the problem of trying to figure out at
Interpace what it would cost to execute it because, here
again, we were involved in such a big scale. Again we
rented the Pan Pacific Auditorium, and I remember that we
came out to almost an inch in swinging those great arcs
for the rainbow. We used the full width and the full
length of the Pan Pacific, and we actually used wire,
rather than cord, because there's so much stretch in any
heavy string. We swung the radius on the floor of the
Pan Pacific for the different colors of the rainbow, and
I drew the rest of it in without any difficulty, just on
a grid pattern basis.
But then the problem was how to execute it. If each
tile had to be painted by hand — these were twelve-inch-
square tiles — I knew that it would cost absolutely
unlimited money. I didn't see how we could get the
graduation of color, which we wanted; we didn't want
hard edges. So we went out and hired a group of twenty
or twenty-five good art students from various colleges and
art schools, and I brought them together, after we'd made
this tremendous layout from which we could make tracings
of each area. I taught certain ones to trace in sections.
They were working on a space twenty-seven feet wide. We
worked out techniques by getting the widest tracing paper
in the world, then having them get down on their knees
right on top of the tile which had been all laid out, and
in this way they traced the design onto the tiles. Then
we built a huge platform that we could lay sections on.
We worked out a way of suspending fellows who could use
spray guns for spraying the glaze on from above. We did
this without any chance for corrections. Of course when
you're glazing, what you'll fire out as red may look green
when you put it on, and all the values look alike. They're
all light. So we ran two or three sections and fired them.
I remember how worried the various top people were in the
Interpace plant. They looked at these things, and they
said, "Oh, my God, how do you know what it looks like?"
Of course, every tile was numbered, and here was a case
where we had a lot of tile. If you multiplied 27 times
280, you have a lot.
Finally I was so harassed by these top executives that
I said, "All right." By this time we had about 4 percent
of it done, and standing on the ground beside it there is
no way to look at it. The thing's going to go up in the
air that far, and you're going to look at it from some
distance anyway. There are two of the panels, one on
each end of the building, the same size and the same
design. It was really a tremendous problem. Here, again,
I think there was about $240,000 or $250,000 involved in
the total project. The executives were worried because
they'd see a little bubble once in a while on some tile,
which will happen once in a while. Now, in an ordinary
run of tile, you'd just throw that tile out, but in this
case we couldn't throw that tile out. It would have been
very difficult, almost impossible, to exactly duplicate it.
So finally in disgust, after I was pressured enough,
I rented a helicopter this time, and I took the two top
men in the company up with me. I'll never forget it. We
took off up there in Glendale, and we swung down over the
parking lot where we'd laid it all out, this 40 percent
that was finished. As we approached it from a hell of a
long ways off, I knew we were in. There wasn't any ques-
tion at all, because the thing read from a mile and a half
away. We came in at 500 feet, and at 500 feet it was
simply marvelous. You couldn't believe how well it read.
So we went up to 1,000 feet, then we went up to 2,000
feet, and that was the last trouble I had on the job.
The people from then on were extremely pleased, and there
were no problems until they put them up.
Unfortunately, the company that put them up were
willing to pay for a supervising engineer, a ceramic
engineer, for, I guess, the first two weeks or something
like that. Then they felt that because he wasn't exploding
every day with some new problem and some new suggestion,
they didn't need him any longer. Because of that, they've
had a very serious problem about the mural, which should
never have happened. They did not completely clean the
concrete wall behind the mural after a certain height up,
and they lost quite a few tile. These have been replaced,
and now they've had to go back and repin a lot of those
tiles down again — which is utterly unnecessary, but they
just simply got into the situation of being plain cheap
when they shouldn ' t have .
Still, the mural is very effective. It's quite
interesting from the sea, and when you fly in from Hawaii
on the west end, you can see it for ten miles. Everybody
takes photographs. Of course, you can see the other side
from anywhere around the hotel and clear from the free-
way. It reads very well. As a symbol, the Hilton people
have used that rainbow now throughout their whole chain
all over the world.
GOODWIN: Right. Uniforms and menus.
SHEETS: Costumes and uniforms and menus and everything
else. And it was a lot of fun. We had some bad days
wondering for sure how well we could control it, but
those kids were wonderful. You know, many of them stayed
on. We kept them on and they worked there for years. It
was good experience for those kids, too, because they had
to be a part of a team, which was a totally new thing for
many of them. That was the hardest thing for most of them
to adjust to. They're used to doing their own thing, but
here they had to be a piece of something that was moving,
and it was very interesting.
GOODWIN: Let's talk now about the Los Angeles City Hall
East, where you did two murals.
SHEETS: Right. This was again with the same company.
GOODWIN: Where is that company located?
SHEETS : Interpace is the present name for what used to
be Gladding-McBean, which was a very famous California
company. They produced Franciscan dinnerware and Franciscan
tile. They merged with Interpace approximately twelve years
ago and became part of a conglomerate corporation, which
at the time of this merger was International Pipe and
something else. So they changed the name to Interpace.
It's a coined name. The "International" part was all
right, but the rest of it they just made up. So anyway,
when the architect asked me to do the mural for the city
hall, he said he'd like to have it done in tile. Well,
we had worked long and hard at developing this technique
where we could fire all of the colors at one time. Didn't
we discuss that before?
SHEETS: This was so new, nothing had been done like this
before, where you could fire brilliant reds, brilliant
yellows, greens, blues, greys or blacks and earth colors
all at the same time. So I was excited about using the
tile for this mural. I worked up the two sketches, more
or less depicting the idea of the melting pot, the dif-
ferent cultures that make up our culture. I think there
are parts of that that are particularly beautiful, and I
think the overall effect is interesting.
GOODWIN: Does one mural have a distinct subject and the
other mural an opposite subject?
SHEETS: No, not the opposite. In each one it's a con-
glomerate of cultures. I took all of the major cultures
of the world that have been the sources of our own American
life, from the primitive to the more sophisticated cultures
that have come here, and I've tried to do the symbols that
would be as clear as possible in representing each of them.
To put it together as a kind of total mosaic of design was
a lot of fun, and I think the color is interesting. It's
real sad to me that the lighting, which is so necessary ,
isn't there because of the lighting freeze. There's about
half-light on at night, and no light on in the daytime.
It's set back some 100 feet from the edge of the building,
where it's part of the elevator wall. All they get now
is a flat light from way off, which is not a very good
light; and what little they get is less than good light
because it has a little inclination to shine, whereas
the down lights that were a part of the integral design,
all hidden in the ceiling, would have given perfect light
with no shine on the mural, and the color would have just
flared out in a beautiful way. I hope it will not be
frozen forever and that the lighting will eventually be
done right. But it was exciting to do, and here again I
had to use a lot of people to work with me on the execu-
tion. I think I must have had eight artists working with
me. I had one man that did nothing but wash the bottles
out of which we squeezed the glaze. It's all hand-squeezed
from a bottle with a little nozzle on the end of it.
GOODWIN: Is that how the painting is done, with a bottle?
SHEETS: Yes. The glazes are applied by squeezing out of
a flexible bottle.
GOODWIN: It's like decorating a cake.
SHEETS: Right, exactly. Except we had a variety of
nozzles from almost wire-thin tubes that would let the
tiniest stream through to some that would come out pretty
fast for the big areas. With the techniques that we
developed for bringing colors together, by putting on
the outlines with one color and then filling between
them with another color and so forth, we produced some
perfectly beautiful qualities. The color itself is very
rich in these glazes that we developed. We spent a
tremendous amount of money in research at Interpace,
hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of nine
years, developing the ability to do these things.
Here again, after a very careful, very finished
cartoon was made and we had very good color sketches, it
was fun to see how you could absorb eight or ten people
working and keep the quality so that it all looks like it
was done by one person. It's amazing that people can learn
to work together. And that's, of course, another thing I
feel so strongly about, because it gets away from this
continuous, egocentric idea that "I've got to show what
I can do." There are things that are bigger than that,
and we've learned to work together on all of these projects.
GOODWIN: I went back and looked at the murals a few
SHEETS: Did you?
GOODWIN: Yeah, and I noticed a few subjects that you
had mentioned as being influential in your development,
even when you first went to Europe in 1929. You men-
tioned how impressive the Avignon Piet^ was when you
first saw it, and I think that's in the mural.
SHEETS: I used it, yes. To suggest the French culture.
What else? Well, I used some German Gothic sculpture.
Sometimes I used people; sometimes I used art — anything
that I felt would best symbolize the special cultures.
I think the African figures are nice. I think that the
American Indian is all right. Of course, those are much
easier, really, in a way than the other cultures. I like
the Jewish scholars. Do you remember that particular
area? The Chinese is fun. The Japanese is fun. It's
all fun because I love all these cultures.
GOODWIN: There's a large sequence relating to nineteenth-
century California history, with the pioneers and the Gold
SHEETS: Right. It's sort of our whole cultural back-
GOODWIN: While we have a little time left, let's mention
the Scottish Rite temples in Los Angeles and San Francisco,
which were actually done before the Notre Dame library.
SHEETS: The Scottish Rite cathedral was one of the most
exciting projects I ever had anything to do with. It
came to me in a strange way. The head of the Scottish
Rite cathedral here in Los Angeles at the time. Judge
Ellsworth Meyer, called me to ask me if I could go to
dinner with a small group of people to discuss an
"interesting subject." I said, "Well, are you sure I
could enter into the discussion?" He said, "Yes, we
think you can." I said, "Do you wish to discuss the
subject matter?" He said, "No, not until dinnertime."
Well, I went to dinner at the [Los Angeles] Athletic Club
with him. I'd met him two or three times before. In
fact, his wife, it turned out, had been one of my school
friends through grammar school and high school. But I
went to meet them, and they were quite an interesting
group. There were doctors and some lawyers and this
judge and two or three others, eight people all together.
They said, "We are going to build a new temple." They
called it a "cathedral." I said, "Well, what kind of a
cathedral?" They said, "Scottish Rite." I was a little
dopey. I thought it might be Masonic, but I wasn't sure.
I said, "Well, where is your old one?" I thought that
might give me a clue, and they told me where it was,
down on Flower Street, something like that. Then I knew
that they were talking about a Masonic temple. They said,
"We are trying to be very thorough before we go ahead with
this job. We have met nine firms of architects, of which
at least the principal men are members of our particular
Masonry degree and also our particular temple. We've
discussed the matter at length with each of them, and
we've asked them for their idea of how they would approach
this problem. You're the only one outside of the group
that belong to the temple that we've interviewed. But
we would like to discuss it with you. This is strictly
in a discussion state. We're not deciding on anything,
and we don't know just when we will, but we definitely
like some of the buildings we've seen of yours and would
like to include you in the discussion."
So they told me quite a bit about what has to be in
a temple of this kind. I didn't dream that there was a
huge auditorium and a huge dining room. The auditorium
seats 3,000, and the dining room seats 1,500, and they
have many lodge rooms and recreation rooms. It's a city,
a tremendous thing. They told me a lot about the project,
and they said, "Would this kind of a thing appeal to you?
How would you go about it?" I said, "Well, I don't think
I'd go about it any differently than I would any other
kind of a project. As a matter of fact," I said, "the
first thing I would want to do is to prepare a very care-
fully thought out list of questions which I would like to
present to you people for answers. You cannot design in
a vacuum, whether it's a big project or a little project,
whether it's for this kind of public use or semipublic use
or private industry. It doesn't make any difference. I'd
have to know a lot more about you. As a matter of fact,
the first question I would put at the top of my list is,
'Why do you think you need to build a big temple? What's
wrong with the one you've got?' I don't know anything
about the one you've got, except that I've seen the out-
side and it looks horrible. But," I said, "that isn't
the important thing. The important thing is why do you
think you need a temple? Maybe the idea of Masonry isn't
even practical today." They really looked so shocked at
that! I said, "I have no idea, not being a Mason, but I
certainly believe that you should really answer a lot of
questions. I don't think it would make a damned bit of
difference what I think you should do at this point,
because I don't know, and I don't think any other designer
or architect could tell you any better, unless of course
they're active members and have a lot of strong feelings,
which I don't have. I wouldn't attempt to tell you what
you should do. "
They said, "Well, do you envisage any form?" I
said, "Oh, no, I don't envisage any form at all at this
point because it's got to grow out of the function and
out of the whole idea of what you want." So they said,
"Well, why don't you write us a list?" We had a pleasant
dinner party, and we didn't get any farther than that,
but I was happy to be included. I spent a lot of time
then for maybe six weeks, five or six weeks — I know I
didn't hurry — trying to really think out the problems.
I knew the site. The site was magnificent.
TAPE NUMBER: X, SIDE ONE
JANUARY 16, 1977
GOODWIN: Last time we began to discuss Mr. Sheets ' s work
for the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in Los Angeles, and
he had explained how he was invited to a dinner to learn
about the Masons' plans for a new site. Subsequently, he
thought about their needs for a number of weeks. Then, I
assume, you got back in touch with Judge Meyer.
SHEETS: No. As a matter of fact, I was very busy, and
I suddenly realized that about four months had gone by.
I thought perhaps I had frightened them away completely
by asking them the twenty-five or more questions of why
they thought they ought to build a temple. Then the
phone rang and it was Judge Meyer, the head of the Scottish
Rite. He said, "Well, we're ready to answer your questions."
So we set up another dinner party, and it was an exciting
evening. It was one of the really most exciting ones
because they had done their homework. They had worked
terribly hard on all of the questions and had, I thought,
some imaginative answers. They were not in any way tying
me or any other designer down, but they had some very good
thoughts about the new relationship of Masonry to society
and why they felt this was an important time to build the
temple and why they wanted to truly represent the spirit
So without further ado, I made many sketches, I
think three different concepts, which I presented to a
smaller committee that they had decided would be easier
to operate with. I think there were four people--or
five, counting Judge Meyer — on the committee. I made
the presentation of these three different concepts, from
which they selected one. It was the one that we finally
followed, but it grew considerably in the development,
as most of these kinds of things do, both in character
and in detail.
GOODWIN: What was their basic need?
SHEETS: Well, I think I suggested to you that I was
surprised by the tremendous number of things that had
to be incorporated in this temple. First of all, the
upper degrees of Masonry are given in an auditorium,
and they are given in the form of plays. They have
incredible costumes and magnificent productions of the
basic concepts that are ethical and have at heart a
religious depth, and they draw from many religions, as
far as I understand. I'm not a Mason, but I do feel
that it's a tremendous attempt toward the freedom of
man as an individual, and the rights of man as an
individual, and respect for various races and creeds.
I won't say this is always obtained, but certainly
that's been the spirit. They felt that they wanted to
depict this in every form. That's the reason there's
so much decoration involved in the temple.
The huge mosaic on the exterior east end of the
temple at that time was the largest mosaic I'd ever made.
It starts out with the builders of the temple from the
days of Jerusalem, and King Solomon, who built the temple,
and Babylon. Then it jumps up to the Persian emperor,
Zerubabel. When the crusaders went to the Holy Land, they
built a place called Acre, which is still a very important
historical monument to the period of the crusaders. Of
course, there were other temples and I showed Rheims
cathedral in the process of building. I showed the
importance of [Giuseppe] Garibaldi, the Mason who broke
away from the Roman Catholic church because of what he
felt was its limitations and dogmatism. Ever since then,
there's been a certain quarrel, I gather, between the
Masons and the Catholics. Then there is King Edward VII
in his Masonic regalia as one of the great grand masters.
We had the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace,
which is part of the King Edward section. I think the
final part of that mosaic shows the first grand master
of California in his full regalia being invested in
Sacramento. It's a kind of historical thing going way
back to the ancient temple builders and coming right up
through to actual California history, which the California
sun at the top symbolizes.
GOODWIN: Did they initially want a mosaic for the
exterior or is that an idea you presented?
SHEETS: It's an idea that 1 developed as part of the
building, because they told me in the very beginning,
in the answers to these questions that they felt that
they wanted to symbolize, in the same spirit, that law
and concepts of religion were involved in the great
temples. Certainly the Gothic cathedrals were the book
for the people who couldn't read. Well, they didn't
think of the American people not being able to read,
but they wanted to show graphically the intensity of
feeling throughout history toward the neaning of Masonry,
So naturally, when I had this as a problem, I wanted to
do something very dramatic on the east end, because that
is an extremely tall mural. I think it's about seventy
feet tall (I can't remember exactly); it's sixty or
seventy feet high, and it's about twenty feet wide at
By the same token, the concept of the sculpture
along the south facade, which I worked in collaboration
with Albert Stewart to design, and then he made all of
the models — it seems to me there were eighty scale
models, which I took to Rome and had carved by a very
fine sculptor in solid travertine. These were, of
course, eventually sent back and placed on the facade.
And here again are all of the temple builders, each one
representing a special builder going back to ancient
Egypt and coming on through the time of King Solomon and
the Persian emperor, up to and including George Washington,
There are also Albert Pike, who was one of the very great
men in the early part of the twentieth century or latter
part of the nineteenth century, and Christopher Wren,
who built the great cathedrals in England. The two St.
Johns were interesting, because they were said to be
patron saints, and they depicted two different meanings
entirely. Then there's the Gothic builder, so it
symbolizes the whole meaning of the building of the
GOODWIN: How did you decide to work on such an enormous
scale with those sculptures?
SHEETS: I felt that Los Angeles didn't have anything
like this and there should be something that people
would look at with a little different view than a typical
six-foot-tall fellow holding a Civil War sword in his
hand on a pedestal in MacArthur Park. I felt if we
could get some sense of bigness of spirit, it would be
exciting. I felt also that it gave us an opportunity,
carving these figures in actual stone, to make a very
dramatic presentation. The double-headed eagle, which
was the symbol for the Scottish Rite, Albert Stewart
designed, and I think it makes a stunning logo. We used
it in four spots on the temple. Then all of the inscrip-
tions which we did were carved in travertine, and the
different insignias of the degrees are all parts of the
actual rites themselves. So it really makes a book to
a pretty high degree on the outside.
On the inside, there are several sculptured and
mosaic decorations on the interior of the auditorium.
There's a large mural depicting the history of Masonry
in California, starting with the first houses which were
erected by Masons. It's all involved, and I can't remember
all the details. There's also a large mural in the main
reading room off the main library, which was not symbolic.
It was the kind of thing I liked to do , a very interesting
mood of some ancient trees, and it's a totally different
type of mural. Then I did murals in the dining room.
The temple is like a city. It has a huge auditorium
where they hold performances for the degree. Then there
are four lodge rooms upstairs, where the various blue
lodges meet to give the lower degrees. There is
a recreational floor that has nothing but library
facilities and pool tables and a combination of reading
room and card room. There is a very fine library, which
we had a lot of fun designing. There are, of course, the
locker rooms and all of the other things that make it a
tremendous, big building. It's four stories above ground
and one below. There is a huge dining room on the top
floor that seats 1,500 people, where you get an excellent
view of the city. It's all under the overhang of that
big roof that extends over the balcony areas .
GOODWIN: I understand that the initiation fee for the
Masons is very small, so what is the source of their
SHEETS: Oh, that's a good question. I won't say they
are a wealthy organization, but it's extraordinary the
amount of money that members leave at their deaths or
give during their lifetime to Masonry. They support,
as you know, so many things, like the Shriners' Hospital
The Shrine is another advanced degree area, but it is
more on the social side. They put on the big East and
West football games and the Shrine game, which support
their children's hospitals. They have innumerable homes
for children whose parents either die or desert them.
They have not only children's hospitals but other kinds
of hospitals. I believe almost all of their hospitals
and their homes for children are nonsectarian. For
instance, in San Francisco they support the magnificent
Shrine Hospital for Children where it costs absolutely
nothing to send a child, born with a severe handicap,
there for countless operations. On the other hand, if
a family is capable, has the money, they can contribute,
but it's an astoundingly well run affair. Sue Hertel,
who works for me, did a beautiful stained-glass window
for the chapel in the Shrine Hospital. I had an oppor-
tunity to see the hospital, and I couldn't believe the
incredible things that they do there. It's one of the
most disheartening things in the world to go through
the hospital and see the numbers of children who are
born with handicaps, but they are given the finest
treatment there, and it's nearly all financed through
the gifts of the people who believe in Masonry and its
dedication to helping mankind. Many Masons leave very
large amounts of money to such institutions .
GOODWIN: How long were you involved with the building
of the Los Angeles temple?
SHEETS: I think from the time that I was first contacted
until we finished the job, it would have been at least
three to three and a half years. It took about two years
to build the building. It took more than a year to plan
it in the actual design stage. It took almost another
year before that, while we talked about it. Including
that six-month wait, I think it was almost four years.
Then I did another Scottish Rite temple in San
Francisco. I worked with an architect who was an old-
time Mason and who had done the large temple for Masonry
in San Francisco. It's called the Grand Lodge. It has
a huge auditorium, where many affairs other than Masonry
are held. I designed the building, and his office in San
Francisco carried out the plans. That is similar to the
Los Angeles temple, though perhaps simpler in some ways.
We had a tremendous amount of decoration on the inside
and a certain amount on the outside. There is a tremen-
dous grill that had the great temple builders designed
right into it, and we used insets of mosaics in the
figures, which gives the grill a very exciting effect.
The grills are probably 150 feet long, divided into two,
with a space in between. It makes a very interesting
approach to the building. You pass through this grill,
then right into the actual building. But inside it's
loaded again with a tremendous amount of decoration, all
symbolical. It again has most of the same facilities
that we have in Southern California.
Then later I redesigned the interior of the main
lobby of the Grand Lodge. They had become more and more
interested in renting the lodge auditorium to various
organizations, such as symphony orchestras, concerts,
and plays, and it has become the largest auditorium for
that kind of use in San Francisco. I had to redesign the
stage so it could be a combination of the proper setting
and staging for the lodge, and at the same time pliable
and useful for the other affairs. That was exciting.
We put all new seats in, all new everything, and designed
a great many changes in the architecture itself.
GOODWIN: The Masons sound like a fascinating client.
SHEETS: Well, I found them to be. My only experience
has been these three instances, but they know what they
want, and they are perfectly fine to work with. They
deal very directly. There's no bouncing around. I do
admire what they do for society, because it's much more
than a lodge. It's basically a thing that means a tre-
mendous amount, I think, to an awful lot of people out-
side of the Masons themselves. That kind of covers all
I can think about in terms of the Masonic temple.
GOODWIN: We've only mentioned some of the more obvious
commissions Millard Sheets has done in architecture and
mosaics and murals and so on. There are really too many
to mention individually. But just to give an idea of
the breadth of his activities, I want to mention also
the topic of motion pictures.
SHEETS: Well, I've had a great deal of fun, really, as
well as done a lot of hard work with motion pictures.
I've never been involved to the same degree as most people
who become involved in motion pictures, but starting way
back in the early thirties, I worked for MGM and for
Universal Studios. I worked on such pictures as The
Great Ziegfeld . I can't even remember the names of some
of the others, but I designed special sets and made
sketches for other designers, too, which were then trans-
lated, of course, into sets. From my sketches they went
into architectural drawings, then right on into the sets.
Then later, in a series of pictures, I worked with William
Dieterle, the director, and that meant traveling to Israel
for an extended trip of more than two months, and there
was a trip to Egypt which lasted about six weeks. We
worked on all of the preliminary work and all of the
background material. It was my job to serve not only
as production designer, but to see to it that all of
the extras were costumed for the huge scenes that occur
in biblical pictures. In one instance, I think there
were 10,000 people involved. I also had the difficult
job at times of going to the cultural minister, for
instance in Egypt, and showing him a preliminary script
which had been written for Joseph and His Brethren . It
certainly lacked everything that Thomas Mann had in his
book on Joseph and His Brethren . I had to somehow reassure
the minister of culture, who was extremely well read on
the subject, about the picture, and I had to have him
place faith in me and in William Dieterle to the extent
that they were willing to loan us the areas where we
wanted to work, because we worked in some of the most
important areas in Egypt. The only thing he said in a
sense of protecting himself was, "Well, chances are we'll
never show these pictures in Egypt or any other Arabic
country." However, we were given full permission to go
everywhere we wanted, and we had some extraordinary
experiences — it would take too long to enumerate — but
up and down the length of the Nile, from Aswan to Cairo
to all of the great areas, including Thebes. We worked
very freely. I had to do the research and make the
decisions as to where we were going to shoot, and it was
very, very exciting.
I found the same thing even more exciting in many
ways in Israel because of the fact that I had not known
as much, perhaps, theoretically about Israel as I had
about Egypt. I think in the first three weeks that I
was there, which was before any staff came, except the
director, we covered — and I covered particularly — almost
every inch of Israel that belonged to it then: down into
the Negev desert, up to the high mountains, going up into
Lebanon. In covering this with an Israeli colonel and
driver, we crisscrossed every inch of the country. I'm
sure that very few people in Israel itself have had the
experience of covering that much territory. I really
enjoyed it. I don't think that we produced the greatest
pictures, but I certainly had a real thrill being involved.
GOODWIN: On the subject of costume design, I think there's
something you failed to mention. I understand that you
did some designs for academic gowns at Scripps at one
SHEETS: [laughter] That doesn't really amount to very
much. The girls were very sick of the typical black gown
and black cap. The colors of the college, which were two
colors of green, had been selected long before; so I
designed a graduation robe in those colors which have
been used throughout all the years at Scripps. It was
kind of pleasant to see that it could be done in good
taste and simplicity and be dignified, but it was no
tremendous thing. I enjoyed it.
GOODWIN: Did you design banners to represent departments
SHEETS: There was a banner that already represented
Scripps. It was designed by Lee Laurie, and it was
really based upon the Lee Laurie sculpture. He made a
relief sculpture of The Sower , a theme he used quite
often, which is a woman walking in the field with a bag,
sowing the symbolic wheat. We converted that into a
banner and used the colors, and it was very handsome,
but the original design was Lee Laurie.
GOODWIN: I think you mentioned that you also designed
the official seal of Los Angeles County?
SHEETS: Yeah, I did, and that was an experience. Did
I tell you about that?
GOODWIN: No. I'm putting your work in heraldry in one
SHEETS: I was working of course as the director of the
County Art Institute [Otis] at that time, and that's the
reason I was asked to do it. The Board of Supervisors
were unhappy about what they had in the way of a kind of
map of the county. One supervisor, Hahn, called it "a
pan of fried eggs," which was not exactly a very good
description. Anyway, they asked me to do it. I, in turn.
said, "What do you want to symbolize? I have some ideas
about Los Angeles County, but you're the supervisors, and
you have all sorts of authorities at your fingertips.
What do you want symbolized?" I couldn't get one single
suggestion, not one single suggestion, from any one of
the supervisors. So I went ahead and made a very finished
drawing, which was in color, of what I thought might make
an interesting seal. I did it in an extremely simple way
so it would read well in the distance and so it wouldn't
look like a fried egg to Supervisor Hahn. Well, of course,
the minute that I showed them the seal, they started sug-
gesting all sorts of themes that might be added or one or
two which might be eliminated. I said, "Well, that's
fine. At least this is a kickoff." But they liked the
arrangement of the seal: a simple cross form. They said,
"It's just a matter of what we put in there." So I said,
"All right, now have a huddle, and get your experts to-
gether and then tell me what you want added or taken out."
And they did .
Well, at the time I was very involved with my own
work in addition to directing the institute, and I had a
young man working for me who was extremely credible. He
wasn't always an articulate draftsman, but he was very
good in many things that he was doing for me. So when
they finally gave me the symbols that they wanted used,
and the one they wanted for the diary industry was a cow.
So I said to this young fellow, "Look, here's my layout.
Doodle in a cow, and doodle in these changes that we're
making," which he did. We didn't even make it in color.
It was very, very rough.
I took the design into the Board of Supervisors and
left it with John Anson Ford, who was the chairman. I
explained to John that this was strictly a preliminary
rough sketch, and it was not meant as the final drawing.
I didn't want to go ahead and go through the agonizing
business or making another long-winded, finished drawing
or finished painting, then have them tell me they wanted
to change some ideas again. So it was presented on that
basis, and Hahn, who is such a nincompoop as far as I'm
concerned anyway, immediately attacked the drawing of this
cow. And in nothing flat all of the reporters in the
area, the Times and Examiner and the radio and everyone
else, picked this up as a tremendous thing that the
director of the art institute couldn't draw a cow. Hahn
made a great speech about the fact that he thought it
was pretty sad when the director of the institute couldn't
draw a cow. So it came out over the radio and in the
papers and everything else, and of course it made me very
angry. I did have the satisfaction of telling Mr. Hahn
what I thought of him as a person as well as what I thought
of his intelligence. But in the meantime, they approved
every one of the ideas, and I made a finished drawing.
Well, by the time that drawing went through the
routine of the cryptographers, or whatever they call the
people in the county who translated the design into
everything from silk screens to emblems for the cars,
and all the other uses for the seal — I must say it lost
some of its original drawing. But I think the overall
effect is good.
GOODWIN: Let's mention your work for the United States
Air Force in Japan and Formosa. This was about 1958?
SHEETS: It's down there. [referring to notes]
GOODWIN: Yes, 1958.
SHEETS: It was the period when the Red Chinese from the
mainland were bombing and dive bombing the islands of
Quemoy and Matsu. It was a very dramatic moment in
world peace, if we can call it world peace at that time,
and the United States was very much involved. They sent
a great deal of material to Formosa. They sent planes;
they sent a lot of mechanical equipment and even a large
force of mechanics to take care of the planes. We did
no flying against the Red Chinese, but we kept those
airplanes going, and we gave them, at that time, one of
our best planes. They were extremely fast, and they
were flown expertly by the Chinese flyers.
Well, the air force asked me, as they've asked many
artists to go on similar jaunts, to go to Formosa and
work at the bases and document as well as I could what
was going on. I did fly toward the islands. I never
was close enough to be really involved with any actual
fighting, but this fighting was going on, sometimes
three and four times in twenty-four hours, day and night.
The Chinese flyers would fly across from Taiwan when the
word came that they were about to have another raid.
Whereas the Red Chinese only had to fly something like
eleven minutes from their mainland over to the islands,
it took about forty minutes for the Free Chinese to go
over. But they had this thing down to a pretty excellent
timing proposition with their systems of warning and so
on. The Free Chinese air force was really getting the
best of it most of the time. But like so many wars, like
our war in Korea and also, actually, in Vietnam, the Free
Chinese themselves were not allowed to cross the line
over China. Although a few planes were shot down, I'm
sure , over the edge , the attempt was to keep away from
the mainland itself and not cross the shoreline. But it
was dramatic and it was very exciting to be in the midst
of what was a war, although I was on the sidelines. I
certainly enjoyed the whole experience.
GOODWIN: Did you do mostly watercolors?
SHEETS: Yes. I always work in watercolor and drawings
when I make trips of that kind. It's so easy to carry.
GOODWIN: About how much work did you produce?
SHEETS: Oh, I think — if I remember correctly — I gave
the air force approximately six or seven paintings when
I came back, finished paintings, which are in their
archives. They have a very large collection now of
paintings done by, oh, I would guess perhaps fifty or
sixty artists from the United States in different combat
zones. Of course a lot of it is in peacetime, too. It's
not all war — fighting. But it's a very large collection,
and some very, very good artists have gone.
You go, if you're invited to go, with the rank of a
colonel. The only embarrassing part of that whole trip
was that every time we got on an airplane, starting out
here in Sacramento, I went to sleep in the officers'
waiting room, because the plane was always a little late
taking off. They would suddenly waken me and say, "You
have to get on board before anybody can go on board,
including even the pilots." Well, I was very embarrassed,
but that happened a half a dozen times. I didn't go to
sleep — I don't mean that — but every time we got ready
to go on the plane, everybody stood and waited for me
to go on board. I felt like a fool, but that was the
GOODWIN: In 1960 and '61, you were a lecturer for the
State Department in Turkey and Russia.
SHEETS: What they really called those programs was the
American Specialist Program. Unlike an ordinary cultural
exchange, which many people have gone on, we had a program
where we exchanged similar people, people who had the
same kind of activities. I was involved, of course, in
education; I was involved in architecture; I was involved
in painting and to a degree in planning and that kind of
thing. So it was always very exciting because each time
I went it gave me a great deal more choice and leeway as
to where I wanted to go and to the people we met.
The trip to Turkey was fabulous. The State Department
was not willing, in any way, to consider sending ray wife
with me, but I felt that partly because I traveled so
much without her during the days when our children were
young and also because if we went as a married couple
we would have access to many experiences that I couldn't
have as a single person. It was absolutely borne out in
both experiences. Because of Mary being with me, we were
able to go in and out of homes, meet many more people,
and have many experiences I know I never would have had
if I had been alone. In addition to that, she's marvelous
with people, and I think she gave a very great deal of
credit to our country by her spirit of wanting to know
about and to get acquainted with people and to being
sensitive to so many things in their lives, with women
as well as with men. I know it was extremely important.
Well, we arrived in Turkey, in a very cold winter.
I spent several days in Istanbul, where I lectured. Then
I met and had discussions with people in the universities
on problems both in architecture and in painting.
GOODWIN: Did you give any demonstrations?
SHEETS: Yes, I gave at least two or three demonstrations,
I think, on that trip. In both instances, they wanted me
to paint. I didn't really do much painting in Turkey — I
did some. But the time was so confusing, and it was in
such a terrible part of the winter that I wasn't really
We went from Istanbul to the first capital of ancient
Turkey, Edirne, which is in the very far northwest corner
of Turkey, where Bulgaria and Greece come together, and
it is fantastic. I gave lectures there, and we saw some
of the ancient buildings.
One of the most interesting ones was a huge building
for the treating of the mentally disordered. Way back in
the twelfth century or even earlier, this whole building
was designed to aid in the treatment of the patients.
Water was used as one of the most important parts of
the therapy. There were many ways that they had water
dripping and water running and spouting in little foun-
tains. The doctors maintained that it had a tremendous
influence upon the mental attitude of the people they
were treating. It was really a magnificent building.
It had not only the main open areas, but it had beautiful
courts, and the rooms themselves seemed to have been
pretty beautifully thought out. So it was fun to see
that even that early that thought was given to the mental
problems to the degree that it was.
Then from Edirne we went back to Istanbul and spent
more time there. Then we went up to Ankara, the capital
of Turkey, in Anatolia, the Asian part of the country,
and it was bitter cold. It was right in the dead of
winter, below zero a good part of the time, snow all
over the ground. We met with State Department people
and other Americans who were there on various assignments ,
as well as with a number of fascinating Turkish groups.
We saw the great Hittite museum and other places of
interest, and then we took off.
I had a driver come up from Istanbul at my expense,
and we drove almost 3,000 miles. We went to Bursa, to
Kayseri, and we went to Goreme , where the early Cappadocian
Christians carved out and painted their churches in the
great conical mounds that rose above the barren earth
like enormous anthills, some as high as 200 feet. These
huge stone mounds were carved into not only living areas,
but chapels and refectories. It was one of the most
beautiful and exciting places I've ever been. A stark
lunar landscape. Then we drove on through the whole of
upper Anatolia to a fascinating Kurd village and to
many small towns. It was bitterly cold and deep in snow.
We were told that there were wolves everywhere, which
scared our driver nearly to death. Parts of the country
were really wild and the peasants, in their poor villages,
looked as miserable as people could be. We drove through
the rugged mountains and then dropped down into blossoming
orange groves and fruit orchards where spring was bursting
forth, into a totally different world. We came out at
Adana at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. I lectured
there, then we started on a trip that we were advised not
to take because the road wasn't completed. We drove the
full length of the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean
Sea. And other than for twenty-seven blowouts and some
incredible experiences, we had an exciting, beautiful
trip. We saw ancient Roman ruins, theaters, and fortresses,
and dramatic crusaders' castles, some rising out of the
sea. We came to one city, Antalya, where the Romans
built many of their warships. They had planted cypress
trees all over Yugoslavia and parts of Turkey, and these
were used not only as mastheads but as construction
material for the fighting boats. There were two huge
caves in this town, which they used as protection from
the weather to do a lot of their work. They had a very
beautiful sort of a quai built out, along which they
could moor their vessels. It was an amazing place. We
had taken a Turkish interpreter, Nilglil Matters, with
us. She was a brilliant, young woman who understood
and spoke English extremely well. She had been educated
in the United States and had married an American, Bob,
who had come back with her to Turkey to teach, and they
had two children. She became my interpreter, and she
was excellent. On this particular trip we included her
husband. We had been without any kind of decent housing
or food or anything else for several days, and we looked
forward to this particular town, Antalya, with great
excitement, because we were told that there was a good
hotel and food that was reasonably edible. We arrived
in the town at ten o'clock at night, after I don't know
how many flat tires that day, to find that it was the
one night of the year when they had a great vaudeville
show in the town auditorium.
All the people who could came from far and near to
see the show, and they had taken every single bit of
lodging. After going to the police station, we found
that there was nothing whatsoever to be had unless we
could get to the mayor, who was sitting up on a little
ledge in the middle of the auditorium. All of us, and
our gals particularly, were just worn out and we had to
find rooms. So Bob and I finally went to the theater,
and climbed a ladder up in the middle of all the people
to this little balcony and, with another interpreter,
explained our situation to the mayor . He clapped his
hands, the show stopped, and he shouted down to a man
who ran a restaurant, if you could call it that. He
said, "Go to your restaurant now and take care of these
people. You stay at the restaurant; then, when the
show is over, my wife and I and some other people will
pick you up, and we'll see that you're taken care of."
Well, it was fantastic. At the restaurant, all that was
left after the big feed before the show, that we dared
to eat, were a few hard-boiled eggs and some oranges.
The rest of the leavings were just out of the question.
Well, sure enough, after the show, they came and
picked us up, and my wife and I spent the night in the
mayor's home, and the other couple spent the night with
someone else high in their official life. In both cases,
we know that they gave us their own bed, and they slept
on the floor, which is real hospitality. We couldn't do
a thing about their giving up their beds; they were so
gracious and so positive about it.
Next morning we had breakfast and went down to see
the hospital, which they were very proud of. We spent
about two hours going through the hospital, which was
extremely far ahead for its time and place. Then we
toured some areas where there were ancient fortresses.
We climbed the top of this high mountain and explored
the town. When we were all set to leave, we were still
concerned because we had no spare tire, and it was a
long way to where we wanted to go to our next stop at
the western end of this Mediterranean coast. We tried
every place to buy tires but there were just none
available, not even retreads. The man at the hospital
said, "Well, now, I think it's not safe for you to go
without a spare, so we're going to send a jeep with a
couple of people along to follow you and see to it that
you get there safely." There was no way that we could
pay graciously for all of this hospitality without
insulting our hosts. We had no goods to give as gifts.
Finally our interpreter, Nil, said, "Well, I think
the best thing to do is to make a gift to the hospital."
So I went with her over to the hospital again and met
the director and told him how much we appreciated every-
thing. I said, "Just to show our appreciation, we'd like
to make a gift." I had in mind something like fifty
dollars — I don't remember exactly, but fifty dollars was
a great deal of money in Turkey in those days. Being
just in the middle of that period where I didn't see
too well without my glasses, I gave him a bank note,
which I thought was about fifty dollars, and we left.
When we were leaving, he was very excited, and he wanted
me to have a receipt. After much talk and much waiting
Nil came running up with this receipt, which I put in my
wallet, and we left. She said, "Do you have any idea
what you gave him?" I said, "I think it was about fifty
dollars, wasn't it?" Well, I can't remember, but it was
more like $250. I hadn't meant to be so extravagant,
but on the other hand, I certainly wasn't too unhappy
about it. Well, this just shows you sometimes that
there's something else operating outside of yourself,
We left the town, and the jeep followed us.
TAPE NUMBER: X, SIDE TWO
JANUARY 16, 1977
SHEETS: We left about one o'clock or one-thirty, and
at four o'clock that afternoon, a band of wild wolves
that were infected with rabies just simply ran through
the town biting right and left. I don't know how many
people were bitten, but the exciting thing about that
funny little gift is the fact that it was that
much money allowed them to buy enough serum to take
care of the whole problem for the town. It just seemed
to be fated and we've been very grateful that it happened
Well, we saw absolutely magnificent Roman ruins and
beautiful cities along the way, many of them in semiruin.
As we were driving up towards Izmir, we saw the most
exciting processions of camels in the brightest regalia,
with all sorts of people on foot and people with various
musical instruments and whatnot going along the road all
headed toward one direction. We finally came to a small
town where there was a complete festival, put on by the
mosque as a money-raising event. We found that there
was a camel wrestling contest going on, a sport we'd
never heard of before. These camels are incredible in
the way they actually wrestle. The owners get them into
a very high state of excitement with wild music on drums
and horns and by having a she-camel in heat tethered
nearby, and then they lead two males into the middle of
the field where they try to throw one another by forcing
the head down with blows from their snakelike necks.
They fight in full regalia, and it was a tremendously
exciting experience. We stopped to explore Ephesus,
then we went on to Izmir for several days of talks and
meetings, and then finally we drove back up through the
most famous parts of Turkey to Istanbul for a few more
days, and that was the end of a fabulous adventure.
GOODWIN : How long were you in Turkey?
SHEETS: A little more than two months.
Then the other trip, which was to Russia, was a
tremendous experience. We were there, again, in the
dead of winter. We arrived in November and left two
days before Christmas. I had the same experience, first
of all, of taking my wife, at my expense, which was the
smartest thing I could have done. Even more than in
Turkey, doors opened that never would have opened in
We were briefed in Washington by the State Department
for almost a week, and I have never had as much misinfor-
mation given me in my life. I can understand now, I
think, why I was misinformed. I think that the State
Department, as it operates in Russia, and the people in
the news services are tremendously handicapped and held
down. Entrapment is always on their mind and every
other kind of pressure. They know everything is bugged.
Being a guest of the Russian government, we did not have
this experience, and they allowed us freedom that very
few people have. There were only ten people a year at
that time that were being exchanged. I believe also that
the particular thaw, just after Khrushchev had denounced
Stalin and not too long before Khrushchev was overthrown,
made it a perfect time to be in Russia. I was told that
we'd never be allowed to go where we wanted to go. We
would never go into people's homes. We'd never see the
same person more than twice. It would just be set up so
we wouldn't get really acquainted with anyone, and they
said I'd never be able to give a lecture.
I took about 800 slides with me, hoping that I could
give a talk, maybe with 40 or 50 slides on American
architecture and 40 or 50 on the history of American
painting. I had a lot of slide groups like that, in
addition to a fairly complete resume of my own painting
and of a lot of the murals in the buildings we were
working on, and then the two different houses we lived
in — the one up on the coast and the one we still had
down in Southern California at that time. I thought
these would be fun to show. Well, they said, "You'll
never get a chance." I had a little Japanese projector
that you could collapse down into a small, about 4x6,
box. I could take that thing with a 3 5 -millimeter
Kodachrome slide and throw it up ten or twelve feet
square. It had a great deal of power in the lens.
I took the different gadgets you have to have to change
the different currents, so we were all set. But the
State Department said, "No way. You won't be able to
do it. But," they said, "when the official asks you
where you want to go, take a big, deep breath and just
rattle off all the places, hoping he'll give you a few."
Well, when I did this, the man stopped me in a very
quiet, smiling way and said, "Well, Mr. Sheets, how long
were you going to be here?" We told him. He said, "Well,
if you extend that three months, which we'd be glad to
have you do, you can go to all these places, but in the
meantime, where do you want to go?" So we told him where
we wanted to go, including central Asia, and we went to
all of those places. In that sense we were shocked right
off the bat, right at the start.
Then we noticed that wherever we were set up in
hotels, we were given very special treatment. We didn't
live in any of the typical hotels for the Intourist.
We had a fantastic, wonderful woman, Lydia Moroshkina,
who served not only as our guide and interpreter but
became a great friend of ours. She was a woman who
didn't work primarily as an interpreter. She translated
British and American plays and books into Russian theater
and motion picture, so she understood our idioms. She
didn't speak English as well as she might, but she
understood everything about our language and could
translate our same idiom into the Russian idiom. So
right from the beginning, we felt comfortable with her.
We stayed in these very nice hotels, the Sovietskaya in
Moscow and the Astoria in Leningrad, where they had it
arranged so that I had a big room to work in, in addition
to a sitting room and bathroom and bedroom.
Then they kept pushing the idea that I should paint.
Well, from the beginning, I started to paint. Being in
the middle of the winter, it was beautiful: all deep in
snow. Red Square and out at Zagorsk, which is a great
religious center, the only one left in Russia, I guess,
where they train men for the clergy. It's an ancient,
beautiful place, and the drive out there from Moscow was
We went into dozens of artists' studios. I spoke
the first time at the Moscow artists' union, which is
not like our American unions; it is more like a guild.
I was asked to speak there, and after that first time I
met some of these artists. From there on we were just
constantly being asked to give talks and slide shows,
and I think I gave seventeen lectures all over the Soviet
Union: in Armenia and central Asia, Moscow and Leningrad.
The people were so hungry to learn anything they
could about this country from people who actually lived
there, that when they found out about the slides, my
problem each time was they wanted to look at the whole
800. They didn't care about looking at a handful. If
I lectured for, say, two hours with my interpreter —
which, of course, is a slow job by the time you take
time to interpret and show all these slides — they would
ask questions for three or four hours. Then we'd end
up going from the lecture to the most exciting homes.
We would be met there by a dozen or two dozen people,
with unusual food and drink, which they had made a
tremendous effort to have. Then they would show me
some of the works that they were doing. Some of them
were working on very large murallike panels. Lots of
them were just painting straight easel paintings. I
was surprised and pleased to discover that a great many
of them had very fine recording instruments, and they
were recording, from the BBC broadcasts and from the
American broadcasts, all of our best modern music. Not
only that, they had libraries of the most up-to-date
contemporary art of the world. They had books on prac-
tically every major artist of the last century. They
were very much aware, even though they were being
prohibited to do any of these things by their govern-
ment, of what was being done outside. They were painting
and not showing. They were hiding these things. I saw
a tremendous number of the paintings that they wouldn't
dare show to the public, but they did have enough con-
fidence in me to show them to me.
We were in Leningrad and then again in Moscow and
then down to a country that I hadn't really thought
would be that exciting; but I think that Yerevan, the
capital of Armenia, is a fascinating area, and the
people are marvelous. I met the most interesting
painters there. We were through and in and out of the
great museums, as we had been in Leningrad, where I had
days in the great museum, the Hermitage. Behind the
scenes, we could do anything we wanted. We saw every-
thing. They were extremely good about it. We were in
Armenia, I think, about ten days, and then we flew from
there to Uzbekistan where we visited Tashkent and
The whole experience was thrilling, I think mostly
because we were able to bring to these people — and we
met all facets of life in Russia and these other areas —
the fact that as Americans we were not warmongers, we
were not out to destroy them, which their papers told
them every day we were going to try to do. We had some
incredible arguments and marvelous conversations, very
openly. We didn't hide anything. If they asked me even
what I thought of Khrushchev, I told them. These were
not always easy things to do. Right in the middle of a
talk in Leningrad someone said, "What do you think of
Khrushchev?" I answered exactly what I thought. I
said, "I think that he must be a very important person
in your life, and he certainly seems to have had a
tremendous influence and to have done a great deal of
good in your country. But as a world diplomat, I don't
think that he's been the right man to send to the United
Nations, when he gets up and pounds the rostrum with his
shoe." They laughed, and it was all done very easily.
When we left Russia, a woman official whom we'd
met at almost the beginning of the trip, who had been
very anti-American and anti-us in particular, not only
turned around completely, but she insisted upon taking
us to the airport in order to get us through customs
very easily. She said that we were unlike so many
Americans and British who come to Russia. They smile
and say nice things but go home and write dirty articles.
She said, "You've said everything the way you felt it,
and we will welcome you back at any time in the future."
So we felt really pleased. I said, "Well, have you heard
all the things that I've said?" She said, "I know every-
thing that you said." So I guess they had a pretty good
record of it.
But we were in and out of homes. We were in every
kind of art situation. I admire a great many things
about the dedication and the feeling of these people
about their country. Most of the people who are against
communism have, of course, been eliminated, so they
don't have a very strong group against them. They're
very critical, some of them, of many things about their
government and about their system, but they still believe
that it's going to be fine because when the bureaucrats
who are uneducated die off, they will be replaced by the
enlightened bureaucrats and leaders. It's always only
five years down the road. Well, of course it is never
going to be that way. I must say they're so much like
a cross section of Americans. They're very dynamic;
they're extremely, extremely friendly, very hospitable,
very gay and full of excitement about things. The only
thing I really don't like is their government. I think
the people are just as wonderful as their government is
lousy, and they said the same thing about us. But we
were given a fantastically beautiful trip, and I'm very
grateful that I had Mary with me, because not only did
she get to feel the experience and have the experience,
but she opened up so many doors. No question about it.
GOODWIN: When you returned to this country, did you
lecture about your trips both to the Soviet Union and
SHEETS: Yes, I did, and a lot of my closest friends
thought that I had really turned pink. To come back
and say things enthusiastically about a nation that
everybody's been talking about as your enemy seems to
distract a lot of people, and it seems to upset a lot
of people. I was even shocked at the colleges where I
had been teaching for so long and other places where I
was asked to speak. I must have spoken thirty or forty
times, in every kind of situation, when I came back.
On our return, we stopped in Washington for a
debriefing, and I made a great many people very unhappy
about the things that I told them: first about my
briefing and how wrong it was, and second that I felt
that there was so much good to be done in this program
if they particularly would have people take their wives
with them. Anyway, we came back, and to my surprise,
about two months later, I was asked to come back to
Washington and speak to all the members in the State
Department — which really was a surprise — in a very large
auditorium, probably about 2,500 people. On top of that,
later again, I was asked to come back and speak to the
board that operated that whole program. They gave me
three hours one morning of their regular board meeting
to discuss all of the ideas that I had about their
program. There were State Department people standing
around the wall looking very unhappy. That's the way
democracy does work sometimes. It's awkward, and some-
times it isn't easy, because both of those experiences
were very difficult in many ways. But I think that the
reality of our experience in Russia was something that
Of course, we ran into some very bitter things. For
example, every time we were taken to an airport, we were
given the VIP treatment and put in a special waiting room.
We quickly discovered that in these waiting rooms there
were newspapers, and there was a newspaper that seemed to
be printed in English, Italian, French, and German as well
as Russian. It was called the Moscow News . We quickly
discovered that this was a digest of all the editorials
and major stories of all the Soviet news. After we read
the first one or two in English, I remember Mary became
so indignant I thought she was going to hit someone.
She said that this was the dirtiest bunch of stuff she'd
ever read. It was so anti-American. It was so bitterly
anti-free world and so full of flagrant lies and, of
course, the United States was the center of the blame.
From then on we collected these wherever we went. We
gathered them up, and they were very valuable to me when
I came back in part of my talk to show how their people
are being propagandized. To a certain degree, I felt
that our people were being propagandized too. And I
still think we are.
When we were in Armenia, I had reached the point
where I felt we had to cut down on the bulk of newsprint,
so I spent part of the afternoon cutting out parts of the
things that I wanted to keep, and left the rest of it,
because it looked kind of funny for me to be carrying
all these newspapers around. Anyway, I didn't know who
was going to open my briefcase. What possessed me I
don't know, but I put a paper clip on about fifteen or
twenty of these articles, and I put them in my coat
pocket. I don't know yet why I did it. That night we
went to a beautiful dinner party. The artist guild
first had invited me to a stag party the night before
we were to leave Armenia. They were so hospitable, and
they said that they wanted to give me a party. So I
said, "Number one, I must have an interpreter, and number
two, my wife is with me and I don't really want to go to
a party where I can't take her." So I guess it's one of
the first parties where they ever broke down and allowed
two women to come. In any case, it was a beautiful
party, except it started out with a lot of very heavy,
hard-liquor drinking and a long, long, long, long, long
dinner, probably three hours of various courses coming
along with wines. Well, eventually, after something like
five or six hours, the man who was obviously the head
commissar--the head of all the museums and the head of
everything that had to do with art, a very powerful
political man-, a devout Communist, of course, who
right opposite me at this long table) — arose. He didn't
even wait for people to be quiet. I mean, he didn't
make any attempt to stop them. He just waited. It took
that whole group about ten minutes to simmer down. In
other words, he didn't do a Rotary Club thing and bang
a glass or something. He just stood there smiling.
Finally, when it did simmer down, he picked up a glass,
about the size of a real water tumbler, and he poured it
full of straight, unadulterated, high-powered vodka. He
held it up to everybody, and then he set it down. Then
he made one of the most beautiful talks about how much
they enjoyed having us there, and how we had been the
first Americans who had come since Rockwell Kent came
in like 1925, and how they welcomed the thought that
when we went back to the United States we would really
encourage people from our country to come to Armenia.
They had gotten a very different feeling about Americans
because of us, and we, of course, had made very clear to
them how much we had enjoyed them during our stay. It
was a beautiful talk. Finally he finished, and then
with a flourish he picks his glass up and he goes,
"Glug, glug, glug, glug." He takes that whole thing
down. Well, it would have killed an ordinary horse.
He set it down, and then he sat down.
Well, I knew I had to answer eventually, so I waited
about three of four minutes. I got up and I followed the
same procedure, except I quickly went "Glug, glug," and
set the bottle down and made my talk. I told them how
great we felt about our whole experience in the Soviet
Union and Armenia in particular, and all the things that
we would say when we got back about our feeling about
their people. I sat down, and there was as much clapping
as there had been before. I thought, "Well now, in about
a minute, we can go to bed" — because we were going to
catch a plane at about five o'clock in the morning.
Well, another ten minutes went by, and then finally
a man way down at the end of the table gets up, and he
makes another speech. Then I make another little speech.
Each time I'm pouring one drop while they're pouring these
big glugs. About ten or twelve speeches later, I knew I
wasn't going to make another one. There was just no way
I could do it. I had too much to drink, too much to eat,
and I was too tired. So when I got up about the eleventh
time to answer a toast, I picked up my glass, and I set
it down. I didn't pour anything in it. I had our per-
fectly marvelous interpreter, who didn't mince a word.
I said, "Gentlemen, this time I'm not going to make a
toast. I'm going to ask a question. We've been here
now for five or so weeks, and you know from what has
been exchanged here tonight our feeling about you people
and the people we've met in Russia and the people we
expect to meet where we're going. You know that it's
sincere, as I know that the things that you have said
are sincere. I don't question them at all. But," I
said, "how can you reconcile the things that have been
said here tonight with this incredible package of stuff
that I've cut out of the Moscow News ?" I pulled this
all out of my pocket. I just felt it, I guess, is what
I had to do. I said, "Here is just nothing but sheer
hatred against my country, and I've selected some of the
meanest, some of the most obviously untrue material I
could find. Now, you read these, I'm sure, in Russian
or Armenian or whatever language you read in, but I
can't myself reconcile what's happened here tonight and
what I read. Now, can you?" And I just remained
There was about three minutes of dull silence, and
finally this head guy right across the table stood up
slowly, and he said, "Mr. Sheets, I don't wonder why
you ask this question." He said, "Mr. Sheets, all I
can tell you is that we know we are being propagandized,
but we don't know how much we are being propagandized.
This is our problem, because we have no way of judging
it, except when people like yourself and Mrs. Sheets
come here. These are the only experiences that give
us a key to how much we're being propagandized. Please
accept this as an explanation, and please do not let it
in any way infect your feeling about us as people." Wellj
I thought it took more courage on the part of that man to
do that than probably most people realized. Although I'm
sure he couldn't have said it in Russia, I think even
there it was a dangerous thing to say in public.
But I do think that this is the kind of good that
comes from this kind of an exchange. They begged me to
encourage people to come to Armenia, and not to just
complain about the bathrooms and food but to exchange
ideas. Yet the government makes that very difficult to
do. So it isn't entirely a matter of the tourist not
wishing to do this. It's a matter of the opportunity
to do it, and I think this is part of our great problem
today in the world: to somehow get to people, where we
have these frightening differences, and to try and get
through. I really think it was a terribly important
thing to have done, and I'm grateful for the opportunity
and that I had a chance to do it.
GOODWIN: I understand, to shift to another subject,
that you've been active in Republican party politics.
SHEETS: Not really. At one time I agreed to be a dele-
gate to the Republican party [convention] , and at that
time the man that I had agreed to be a delegate for was
not given the nomination, so I never became a delegate.
As a matter of fact, it was the time that Nelson
Rockefeller ran against the man who had the greatest
loss of any Republican, from Phoenix, from Arizona.
GOODWIN: Oh, Goldwater.
SHEETS: Goldwater. It was 1964, the year that Goldwater
won the nomination over Rockefeller. So I never really
was a delegate.
GOODWIN: You were supporting Rockefeller?
SHEETS: I was supporting Rockefeller. Not because of
any tremendous, great depth of feeling, but I felt that
being a more liberal person, I could support him more
than I could Goldwater. Maybe it was the wrong choice.
The country decided it wasn't the wrong choice, but in
any case that was what happened. I've never been active.
I 've never given great amounts of money at any time to
the Republican party. I've voted probably for more
Democratic candidates than I've voted for Republican
candidates over the years that I've voted all of my
life, because I vote for the man. But I do have con-
victions about some of the basic ideas about conservatism
in economics that I believe are the only sensible ways to
run an operation. Yet I certainly believe in the social
convictions that the Democrats have appeared to stand
for more often. I think the Republicans have very often
stood for these things but haven't been very adroit at
presenting their own position without sounding like "me
too." I don't think any of these politicians have
really hit the center somewhere, which they should.
GOODWIN: Let's now discuss the Virginia Steele Scott
Foundation, of which you're a trustee.
SHEETS: Well, that's a very real responsibility and
something I have become thoroughly involved with since
the death of Mrs. Scott. My wife and I have been friends
of Virginia Scott for thirty-five or more years, with her
and her husband. As you probably know, she had a very
serious cancer operation about eighteen years ago, from
which she had a difficult time recovering her whole sense
of where she was. They operated on the roof of her mouth,
and she became almost inarticulate. She could not talk
easily. Unfortunately, being a very sensitive person,
she literally locked herself in a shell. She wouldn't go
out to see people. All of us who had been very close
friends were just simply locked out of her existence.
Tragically, it eventually separated her from her husband.
He evidently felt he couldn't live in that situation any
longer, and they were separated and divorced. Then after
a long illness, and difficulties because of many problems
which I won't go into, she recovered to the degree that
she became tremendously involved again in collecting and
in being interested in supporting art.
For years before her illness she had wanted to get
a new museum built in Pasadena. So when she regained her
health and she had taken enough therapy so she could speak
well enough to be comfortable, she and her mother were
the first people who gave the money toward the new Pasadena
Museum [of Modern Art] . They gave the first million and
a half dollars, which made it very much easier to get
the rest of the money, as is always the case. After a
while she realized that the people who had really taken
over the reins of the museum — and I mean by that the
local people who not only were pushing a certain area of
art but had real control of it through their board of
governors — she felt that they weren't headed at all in
the direction that she had always been interested in for
a museum. As you know, they made it into the Pasadena
Museum of Modern Art, which they ran for not quite four
years until it became bankrupt.
Well, it was during that period that she simply
turned her back on the museum and decided to build her
own gallery. She made the mistake of building this
gallery in the middle of a private residential area and
on a private street. Well, the gallery is a beautiful
gallery. It was designed by Thornton Ladd and Associates
with her as the guiding spirit, and most of it is under-
ground. You enter the gallery from an elevator in the
library of her home next door. It goes down, and then
you go through a series of some twelve or thirteen
galleries and come up into an atrium that is two stories
high. It goes right up above the ground, with a lovely-
looking house built at ground level over the lower gal-
leries, which provides more gallery space and living
quarters. It's a beautiful, beautiful gallery. It's
on about four acres of land beautifully situated on the
knoll of a hill. There is lovely landscaping.
While she was building the gallery, she asked me to
become a member of her foundation board. She didn't go
into any detail at all as to what the board was to do or
what the foundation was to accomplish or what kind of
financing would back the foundation. When I saw her
failing, rather rapidly, during the last six or so months
of her life, I insisted that she call a board meeting —
which she had never done — to delineate her sense of what
the board should do if anything happened to her. She at
first was unwilling to do this. She said, "I want the
board to do any damn thing they want to do. I don't want
to put any strings on it." I said, "Virginia, that's not
fair. You know that I'm the only one on the board that
has had background in art, and that to simply say let
the board do what they want to do without the board
having some real sense of your philosophy and your faith
and so forth is wrong."
Well, finally, to cut a long story short, I helped
her write an agenda, which she completely approved of,
and the idea was to major in American art and to have as
fine a collection as we could possibly get on the West
Coast. We would do this out of income over a period of
time. Then very abruptly she died, just one day before
the day of the first board meeting she had called. For-
tunately her secretary had taken down everything that had
been discussed, and I had my notes, so we were able to
have the board meeting with some sense of her being there
and her agreement on what we were planning.
Well, we were shocked when we found that the neighbors
themselves objected strenuously to our bringing in even
the same numbers of people that Mrs. Scott would have
been able to bring in quite naturally with no problems
whatsoever as a private gallery. But the fact that it
became a foundation gave them the legal right to inter-
fere, which they certainly did. We cannot even bring
what we had planned at the outside, a hundred people a
week, in small groups, by invitation and by appointment.
So we turned completely toward developing our collection
with the idea that, eventually, we will build a new
museum, a new gallery, that will be open in a place
where the public can come quite easily.
At first we thought we would buy out of income, and
it turned out to be a very large foundation, large to me
at least, some $14 million, including the property and
including the things that she had already collected. We
found that there were two reasons why we should perhaps
not try to do this out of income, the first reason being
probably the most valid: that American art has become a
tremendously important thing in the collecting world
today, not only because of American museums and private
collectors but because investors from Europe are buying
it. We've been shocked by the fact in this year and a
half that I've been buying paintings to discover that
the Swiss and the Germans and the French dealers, as
well as other collectors, have been buying, in an amazing
way, the top things that they can get their hands on.
The supply of modern French art, and the supply of the
old masters, between being frozen by their various
countries and the tremendous prices of modern French,
makes it impossible to go into those areas. The few
things available today are mostly exchanged back and
forth among top private collectors. So it's strange
that some of the same people who have been collecting
European pictures are now buying the great American
paintings as securities and investments. So because of
this and the fact that inflation will outrun you in terms
of the cost of the paintings going up and the value of
the dollar falling, we felt and we have been advised
that we should go ahead and buy out of capital, which
we're doing now. At this point, we have seventy-one
great American paintings.
GOODWIN: And your goal is about a hundred?
SHEETS: We hope to have somewhere between the seventy-
one and a hundred. It could be ninety or it could be
ninety-five or it could be a hundred. However, what
I'm looking for and what the board has agreed definitely
to accomplish is to find the great paintings that are
the stepping-stones in the development of what you could
really call American art. We are starting with a [John
Singleton] Copley, that is an American Copley painted
before he went to England, where there's a certain native
feeling that didn't occur in his English pictures. The
same thing, of course, with Gilbert Stuart, Ralph Earl,
and some of the early portrait painters, who are very
unique in the fact that there is a kind of American
quality that we want and have found. Then when we come
on down through the whole eighteenth and nineteenth cen-
turies, it isn't too hard to select those who are the
forerunners, who really are the leaders of movements
through landscape areas, through the portrait areas, and
the genre painters. Fortunately we've been able to get
really very, very fine, high-quality examples of the
artists that we've collected. We're still missing some
very important ones.
GOODWIN: How far chronologically will the collection go?
SHEETS: Chronologically, we had decided roughly to stop
somewhere between 1920 and 1930. In one or two instances,
we've come beyond that, but basically that is the area
that we're trying to stay within. We know that over a
period of time in the future there will be enough influ-
ence of this foundation and the groups that we are going
to build as supporting groups to continue to collect the
contemporary thing, the contemporary qualities that can
be added in painting, hopefully in sculpture, and cer-
tainly in the graphics to eventually have a very large
lending library from which universities, colleges, and
even museums can borrow things. We expect to have an
ongoing exhibition program in our new galleries or
museum where we can show three or four major exhibitions
a year of various aspects of American painting, sometimes
the greatest older masters and at times very contemporary
things, but on a high level, so that whenever anyone goes
to the gallery, they'll know that they're going to see
something that is really very fine and worthwhile and
that the main collection will never become static.
That's where we are, and I think it's particularly
exciting because we're going to be within, I think, two
years of building our museum. We have several, at least
three, major possibilities where we can go. This is
being worked out now, the final decisions and all of
the legal matters that have to be gone through.
GOODWIN: You want to become affiliated with an existing
SHEETS: Quite possibly, but in a very free sense at
the same time, which is, I think, possible to do.
GOODWIN: We have just a few more minutes left on the
tape here, but let's talk about one other aspect of your
work, which is related to the Scott Foundation. At one
time you served in the capacity of dealer, I believe.
for Bullock's Department Store.
SHEETS: Well, I was not exactly a dealer; I was a
GOODWIN: A purchaser.
SHEETS: Right. I went to Europe, I've forgotten the
year now, for Bullock's Department Stores, which by that
time, of course, belonged to the Federated Department
Stores. They asked me to buy contemporary art or perhaps
back, in some cases, fifty, seventy-five years, paintings
from England, Scotland, France, Italy, Switzerland,
Germany, for a special traveling show that would open in
the Pasadena Bullock's and then travel through a series
of Bullock's stores throughout Southern California. This
would be shown so that the public could buy things that
had been selected for quality at a great range of prices.
I think they were as low as probably fifteen or twenty or
thirty dollars, in the case of certain prints, up to
paintings that were worth a few thousand dollars. It
was exciting to do this because I realized that it wasn't
the first time that it had been done. Vincent Price had
worked for Sears for a year or two before that and had
done a very good job raising the Sears image by having
such shows. Bullock's felt that it was a service, more
than just competition, a service that they ought to
perform, a large cut, certainly, above their gift shop
and that kind of thing. I really had a great deal of
fun doing this, but it was hard work. I would go to a
city, having made all the arrangements ahead, of course.
I had been to Europe just a few weeks before on a trip
of my own, and I had made arrangements with one of the
top London galleries to have a large group of artists
whose work I had selected by name, knowing their work,
bring their things into this collection point, where I
looked at them and bought freely from the things that
GOODWIN: Kind of like being a juror?
SHEETS: It's just exactly like being a juror, you bet.
That's why I said purchaser rather than a dealer because
I had nothing to do with the dealing end of it — except
perhaps in the sense that I did price everything where I
thought it belonged. I didn't have someone telling me
that they should put a price on a thing that I didn't
think belonged. I bought some things that were very
reasonable that I put a much higher price on because I
thought they were worth it. Other things I kept very
close to the original purchase price because, although
they had to have a certain markup, it wasn't exorbitant.
I was followed along by one of the Bullock's buyers, who
paid the bills and saw to the shipping and all that kind
of thing. I can't remember now, but it seems to me I
bought around 900 works totally. It ranged from Rembrandt
etchings to a few pretty serious paintings, pretty
important paintings. That was another interesting
experience because I learned a great deal about the
public. Things that I thought were going to be sure-
fire, either because of price or because of the fact
that we didn't get enough real art collectors, the works
just didn't sell rapidly enough. There were many people
at the first opening days of each of these shows. But
there were not too many actually buying. It's my under-
standing, although I'm not sure of this, that after the
main exhibitions were over, they gave the University of
California at Los Angeles a choice of anything they
wanted from its art collection. I believe a great many
fine things went to UCLA, but I'm not sure about that.
I believe the company made a large profit on the invest-
GOODWIN: In any event, the idea didn't catch on or you
weren't interested in continuing?
SHEETS: The Federated Department Stores of America
bought Bullock's just about the time that this first
project was launched. Being a very large, national
organization and having a much lower price range com-
pared to the Bullock's high price range, they didn't
feel, for whatever reason, like they wanted to do the
second show, which was to be an American show. Then,
as is so often the case, the two top people who were
behind this at Bullock's died. It just seemed to
TAPE NUMBER: XI [video session]
FEBRUARY 5, 1977 and FEBRUARY 9, 1977
GOODWIN: Today is February 5, 1977, and this is George
Goodwin at the home of Millard and Mary Sheets in Mendocino
County, California. Their home is called Barking Rocks,
and it's near a little settlement called Anchor Bay,
California. We're about 150 miles north of San Francisco?
SHEETS: One hundred thirty-five.
GOODWIN: One hundred thirty-five. You've been living
here since 1960?
SHEETS: That's right.
GOODWIN: What led you up here, away from Southern
SHEETS: Well, we'd always wanted a place on the sea. In
the early days we searched every part of Southern California
hoping that we could find what we were looking for. I'm
afraid in those days everything we found we couldn't afford,
and then by the time we were able to get what we wanted,
this was the nearest place to Southern California. We
found it on a trip one time as we turned a corner and
saw these islands and decided this was where we wanted
GOODWIN: About how much property do you have here?
SHEETS: There's seven acres where the house is located,
and then we have a mile and a qraarter of coastline, which
starts a quarter of a mile away, that we bought as an
investment and a place to enjoy. It's a very famous
point called Haven's Neck.
GOODWIN: Here we are in the main gallery of Barking
Rocks, where we're seeing a large number and a great
variety of art objects, but primarily sculpture. We're
starting at the south end, I believe, and moving north-
ward. We just looked at an example of Roman art, I
SHEETS: That's right. That was a piece of sculpture
that I got in Turkey many, many years ago, and that was
a Greek icon we just passed. The reason there are so
many different kinds of objects in this gallery is the
fact that I like art, period. I have enjoyed traveling
immensely and I collect as I go. This is to me a very
exciting twelfth-century German Gothic sculpture that
I've had for a long time. It's something that has
lived very well. The color is beautiful, I think, in
the patina of this figure. In placing it next to the
figure we're going to see, carved by a Tarascan Indian
in probably the eighteenth century near Lake Patzcuaro,
you get an interesting expression, I think, of great
feeling in both instances of the spirit of the Christo ,
but done in a totally different manner: one in a very
refined manner, very sophisticated carving, the other
in very primitive carving. That's a little penitente
figure from New Mexico. As we've discussed before,
George, a collector never owns anything. You pay well
for the privilege of having nice people around to talk
to, but of course they outlast you, which, I think, is
the most exciting thing about collecting. You've had a
hand in protecting beautiful things for a period of time,
I feel no sense of possession. I just enjoy so much
meeting some of the great minds of all time as I look
at various kinds of art.
GOODWIN: Now, here's a rare painting. It's a Millard
Sheets. [ Arizona Mission ] [laughter]
SHEETS: Well, this is here only for one reason. A
friend of mine knew that I liked this painting, repre-
senting a certain period of about almost thirty years
ago. When he had an opportunity to purchase it, he
bought it and gave it to me as a present. I feel
obligated to hang it in the gallery. Otherwise, I'm
sure it wouldn't be there.
GOODWIN: We're now beginning to enter the particular
strength of the collection, which is obviously pre-
Columbian art. How long have you been active in the
SHEETS: About forty years. Again on this table, which
we're passing rapidly, you have things that go back to
the Tlatilco period. You have Colima. There is a
Nayarit figure, and the pot in the background coining
up is from the Monte Alban period of the Zapotecs and
GOODWIN: You've explained that many of these pieces
were acquired in Mexico.
SHEETS: Yes. In the old days, Mexico didn't really seem
to care too much about people bringing things out. I
bought a great many things in Mexico. That hasn't been
true now for a great many years. We have an agreement
between the Mexican government and the United States
government to send important things back when they're
found here. It's a reciprocal agreement that has to be
respected. This is an interesting figure, a Chinesco,
very unusual both in size and in pose. It's a figure
that I've enjoyed a great deal.
GOODWIN: Are you a very systematic collector or do you
collect what appeals to you at the moment?
SHEETS: No, I collect what appeals. I don't think I'm
systematic at all. Of course, in collecting you have
to collect when you have an opportunity because the
pieces rarely remain. You have to make up your mind.
This is a nice stone head from the Valley of Mexico that
I've always liked. I learned a long time ago that if
you really want something and you feel that you can
afford it, the thing to do is to get it, because if
you pass it by it's gone for all time. This is one of
my pet pieces. This is a marvelous Khymer figure from
Cambodia, and it's in such wonderful state, even though
the arms and lower legs are gone and one ear. The rest
of the head is absolutely perfect, never been damaged,
and it's a beautiful piece. Of course the head was
obviously knocked off and it's simply sitting there.
GOODWIN: Was this acquired, by the way, when you were
in that part of the world?
SHEETS: I bought that in Thailand from a marvelous woman
who is one of the great dealers and collectors in Thailand,
who spent a tremendous amount of time in Cambodia. There's
just a fraction of a very large fresco. It's a detail,
but I love the painting in it. This is something I don't
imagine they would allow out of Italy today. I bought it
probably twenty-five or more years ago. It's a triptych
in the school of Vivarini, and the central figure and the
figure on the right have been, I think, relatively un-
touched. The figure on the left was painted over some,
but it's a very decorative piece in its original frame.
There's a whole family of Chinese© figures, as you see,
from the big papa at the back, coming down to baby. Now
we're getting some other figures in the foreground, which
are on another table, but that's an unusual figure. It's
flat as a little piece of pie crust, but it has a beautiful
feeling in it, a funny little figure sitting on the lap.
GOODWIN: Is the arrangement of the objects in the
collection essentially stationary, or do you like to
shove things atound?
SHEETS: No, we move them around, but I like things out
in the middle so you can walk around them. This is a
nice, very good Nayarit figure and that's a very archiac
Colima dog that is admired by people who know Colima.
It's very early, in this curled-up position with the
strange little leg forms, but it's a beautiful pot.
It's never been broken at all.
GOODWIN: This is a very large space. Do you remember
SHEETS: The gallery is about seventy-five feet long and
twenty-six feet wide and fifteen feet high. I built it
as big as the number of beams that I had, which were hand-
adzed beams, and they came from a hundred -year-old bridge
that was built up here in Mendocino County. A friend of
mine bought the bridge, and then I bought the timbers
from him, and he erected them in the most astonishing way.
I've never seen anybody put beams up like he did. They're
enormous and very heavy.
GOODWIN: Was the gallery built shortly after the house?
SHEETS: No, I didn't build the gallery until about four
years ago. We put it off mainly because we weren't sure
what we were going to do with the collection, but our
kids seemed to want to have them here in one place, so
we built the gallery really for that reason. Those are
just fragments of Greek Tanagras, but they're lovely
little pieces. In this particular case, we have a great
many objects representing a great many different cultures
in Burma, Siam, and little bronze figures from Tibet.
GOODWIN: You've commented that the objects seem to
speak to one another.
SHEETS: I think this is true. I think that good works,
regardless of what culture they come from, speak to one
another, like this Egyptian figure. It's a wooden figure
from the great period of Ikhnaton, and I like it very
much. I think he speaks to these Maya and other figures
that are in the case. There seems to be a very happy
relationship. I don't find any quarrel at all between
them. He's really sitting there very quietly while this
Mussolini-like figure from the Island of Jaina is pontifi-
cating, and these two men, warriors, I suppose, are
standing by. But they are rare gems, these little
figures, today. Practically nothing comes out of Mexico
today representing this period. They had wonderful ideas
about headdresses that, I think, are very decorative and
very exciting. But how they could capture in about eight
or ten inches of height the amount of dignity I just
think is remarkable. Look at this old gentleman with
his cloak and his shield. The poses are somewhat similar
from figure to figure, but the modeling of course varies
a great deal, and very often the color. Now, these two
ladies are very, very rare, both in quality and in size.
Well, I've got a man between them. I'd forgotten about
him. They are extremely well sculpted, and this one on
the right has the most beautiful blue, which is very
sought after and very, very rare.
GOODWIN: Do you ever sketch your pieces?
SHEETS: No, I never have really. I just loved seeing
the resemblance between these figures and the people
that live in Mexico and in Guatemala today. It's
astounding how many of the poses and the way they sit
and look are just alike. Of course that's a little,
early Olmecan piece, that small figure, the fat man on
the left. These Tlatilco figures with the large hips
are very, very rare, and they are about 150 to 250 B.C.
That pair of quite realistic figures, if you could see
the whole figure, they're extremely well modeled. They
came from the Chupicuaro area. This is a mask from
Mexico in this transparent stone. I've forgotten what
you call this transparent stone.
SHEETS: Alabaster, of course. This little figure in
the foreground is Chinesco. Then we have these two
strange guys at the back and a whole assorted group of
different periods. Those are nearly all early Colima
GOODWIN: It's so refreshing for me to see the figures
arranged in this informal manner, where they're not
boxed into tight specialties.
SHEETS: Well, I like mixing them up obviously. This is
a beautiful piece, an Olmecan baby. The Metropolitan
[Museum] borrowed this for their show celebrating their
one-hundredth anniversary ["Before Cortez"]. This is
another Olmecan crawling baby. Those figures are dated
between 8 50 and 1100 B.C. and they're among the oldest
things, except for the Egyptian piece that I showed you.
But these are both very rare figures, these Olmecan
babies. That's a pure Olmecan mouth, but see how Oriental
it is? It has a very strong Chinese feeling. You could
almost swear it was Chinese. This was an old Moroccan
door that I had had for years and years and didn't know
what to do with it, so I decided we'd use it in one side
of a cabinet. I have a great friend, Frank Watrons, up
here who makes beautiful furniture. He put it together
for me. It makes a good base for some more figures.
As you see, those are Tarascan dogs.
GOODWIN: We're now standing in the north end of the
gallery and looking south towards the entrance.
SHEETS: That's right. When I built the gallery, I had
an overhang from the guest house, which has a concrete
roof, so it gave me a chance to build a series of niches.
This door goes on through to a storehouse. But these
niches made very nice places to arrange figures. I've
used different colors in them to make them more inter-
esting. This figure is Burmese. The heads are Cambodian,
and there is a contemporary pot in the foreground by
GOODWIN: Do you ever have time to sit quietly in the
SHEETS: I do. I like to go out here, and I like to read
out here and then look around while I'm reading. Of
course, I love to go out to show things to people. I
always feel refreshed because there's a kind of security.
It's not the possession, but just in being around the
kinds of minds that produced these things, minds that
were able to put into stone or into clay or whatever the
form, whatever the material used, that were able to
inculcate as much spirit and timeless quality in the
works, is a challenge to any artist. This is a Gothic
polychromed stone Madonna and Child from south Germany.
Here's a Chinese Tang camel and Tang vase. That's an
early Han horse. Before the Arab horse was introduced,
which gave the arch to the neck, the Chinese horses had
these little short necks and big hammerheads, as we call
them. They look mean, and they must have been mean.
GOODWIN: Here's something a little more contemporary.
SHEETS: This is a sketch done in bronze, by Carl Milles.
It's part of a group for a large garden that he executed.
I believe in Maryland, called the Garden of Memories.
He was given the commission, the last major commission
he had, and he used for the figures some 100 figures of
friends of his who had died. Those girls were a couple
of young sisters who had died in an automobile accident
when they were about eighteen. I like nature in every
form, obviously, and these shells are always fascinating
to me because of the incredible, almost infinite, variety
of form and shape and color. And yet they have such a
structural sense that is just fundamental to the idea
of a shell, I guess.
GOODWIN: You also have a case of mounted butterflies,
which we are unable to see.
GOODWIN: It's amazing to me that most of this work is
anonymous. We don't know who the individual artists and
craftsmen were, but it really doesn't matter.
SHEETS: It really doesn't, and I think that that's the
thing that you get from such a collection. It's like
looking at a Gothic cathedral: you don't know who
carved all those fantastic figures. You perhaps were
more apt to know who painted the triptychs than you
would the people who carved, but to think it went on
for over a hundred* years sometimes in one building,
the work itself carried on over the years, it's very
GOODWIN: It might be something that comtemporary artists
could learn about being modest.
SHEETS: I think our ego trips are pretty small by com-
parison to the kind of spirit that was inculcated in some
of these pieces. This is an extremely unusual stone piece
from India. It came from a temple somewhere in the desert
east of Karachi, the Rajputan. There's only one other
figure that I know of in the United States that came from
that same temple. Dick Fuller found it when he was in
India and it's in the Seattle museum. These are the only
two pieces, and they obviously came from the same place.
These matrimonial pieces are very good. They call
them matrimonial because they're married couples. These
are archaic Nayarit and very, very good ones. That's a
lovely little dwarf fron Colima, along with an armadillo.
This character is playing on a rasp some kind of rhythm
GOODWIN: That looks like a Japanese screen.
SHEETS: That is a nice screen in the back. It's seven-
GOODWIN: There are several screens that run the length
of that east wall.
SHEETS: I think they make a good background, and I like
them just for themselves. This is a marvelous little
Chinesco figure. They're very difficult to find of
that quality. That's a pair of figures from the Guadalajara
area. They call them Jalisco, and it's a different style
entirely. That's another Colima dog. This is an extra-
ordinary figure from the east coast, the Vera Cruz region.
It's sometimes called Juastecan, and I am very fond of
this figure. He's a pretty strong character. It's a
large figure, too, as compared to so many of the ceramic
figures that you find.
GOODWIN: It's a great thrill for me to see this collection
as well as your entire home here.
SHEETS: Well, it's great for me to have you here to see
GOODWIN: I'm in the living room of the main house at
Barking Rocks with Mr. and Mrs. Sheets. This is the
first opportunity we've had to meet and see Mrs. Sheets.
Although it may sound like a chauvinist question, I do
want to hear about the large family which has played a
big part in your life. You have several children and
MRS. SHEETS: Yes, I don't think it's a bit chauvinist
because, after all, what is more wonderful than having
a lot of children? Yes, we have four children, and the
oldest is Millard Owen Sheets, Jr. We always called him
Owen to save confusion. He was born a year after we were
married. He's now living in Hawaii, where he ' s a sugar
technician with one of the big plantations. So he and
his family are living a real plantation life. He married
a girl from Kauai, and they started off our population
explosion with five children.
GOODWIN: You have a son who's an artist, too.
MRS. SHEETS: That's our youngest son, Tony. Then we
have a daughter, Caroline, then a son, David, then Tony.
Each one has added to the confusion and the celebration
by having families: Caroline has three, David two, and
Tony two--well, Tony three now. We have a couple of
step-grandchildren, who are very dear to our hearts.
So that makes fifteen. They're all doing exciting things
and living very meaningful lives, which is great. So,
what greater reward?
GOODWIN: Good. Another part of your extended family is
not human but animal, because the Sheetses have been horse
enthusiasts for many, many years.
SHEETS: Yes, I think that's like collecting. It's a
disease, but a very happy one. I grew up with horses,
and we always had horses when the boys were growing up.
They rode from our house to Webb School, where the boys
went to school. Then I've always, on the side, had one
or two racehorses; and now I'm involved with friends of
mine, and we have several. That's a great deal of
pleasure for me to follow the breeding carefully and
see these youngsters come along and race. I get a
great big kick out of it. Of course I've always loved
animals. We've always had birds and cats and dogs and
every other kind of animal, too.
MRS. SHEETS: Also goats and sheep.
SHEETS: A few wild ones, very exciting.
GOODWIN: This room, of course, is only one of the
structures at Barking Rocks, and of course Mr. Sheets
designed them all. We have a main house, a guest house,
a gallery, a studio, an aviary, and several other
SHEETS: It looks a little like a penal institution.
GOODWIN: Tell us a little about the design of this room.
SHEETS: Of course we were very excited about the special
view that you get out the window, and that's why we have
large windows with this unusual fish-rock-island combination
out in front of us. We see, of course, the incredible life
on the island. At times we have as many as 3,000 sea lions,
and the whales migrating back and forth from Alaska to
Mexico come in very close, sometimes inside the bay.
Then we have enormous migrations of birds. We felt that
we wanted a really open view on that side. On the other
hand, the rest of the house is fairly solid. We wanted
to keep it on the ground and make it feel like it belonged
here, so we used stone and wood, which has pretty well
blended right into the background of the countryside.
When we built, these little pines were quite small. Now
they're surrounding the house, and it's been very nice
to see it settle in. We like the feeling of the stone,
and there's so little to do except sometimes a little
oiling of the wood--not much in the way of upkeep from
the outside. And it's a pleasant house to live in.
GOODWIN: It's more than that: it's fascinating. We're
now ready to take a walk over to the studio and see how
Mr. Sheets works in between his numerous projects.
GOODWIN: Today is February 9, 1977, and I'm with Millard
Sheets at the collection of the Virginia Steele Scott
Foundation in Pasadena. Today we're going to try and
give an overview of Mr. Sheets 's work as a painter, but
obviously this is an extremely difficult task, because
he's painted well over 3,000 paintings, and we're going
to look at only a handful, only about a dozen. Of course
we're limited by the number of paintings here, but the
Scott Foundation probably has the largest number of Mr.
Sheets 's paintings of any collection. There are about
sixty here, I understand. Currently we're looking at
some of the earliest paintings by Millard Sheets in the
Scott collection. These three paintings date from the
thirties, I believe.
SHEETS: This painting [Abandoned], I believe, is 1932,
if I remember correctly [actually 1934] . It was painted
for the Carnegie International. I was invited, fortu-
nately, all the years from 1930 onward as long as the
shows were held, and I always looked forward to painting
something special for Carnegie, and this is one of many
paintings that I did for it. I was lucky to be invited
because the last time they had an exhibition at Carnegie
that was subject to a jury was in 1930, and it became
something of a scandal. Only fifteen pictures out of
several thousand were accepted. Being the only one west
of the Mississippi River that was accepted, my painting
did get probably more attention than it deserved, but
they did invite me from that point on.
GOODWIN: How would you characterize the style of this
painting, compared to some of your later work?
SHEETS: Well, I suppose it's more truly representational
in one sense than some of the things that I do today, but
this is where I grew up. This is in the Chino hills area,
and it's an old farm that was abandoned during the
Depression. It was a very moody place, and I was very
much interested in dark and light as a design factor.
I guess that's about all I could say as far as any
special style. It grew right out of my own background.
GOODWIN: It's a very strong picture, I would say.
SHEETS: I like the feeling of it, and it holds up pretty
well over the years. Of course it would be fun to repaint
GOODWIN: Right. This is an oil painting, but on either
side we have two watercolors.
SHEETS: Yes, painted in the same area as the watercolor
that you're standing by [ River Bottom ] , that is, down in
the same bottom land of Chino. I did spend a tremendous
amount of time there. Though I was teaching at Scripps,
I spent many weekends down in that area painting. I
painted every kind of light and mood, and I think I learned
more about painting in that period from going out and
working directly from nature steadily every week than
perhaps I ever learned at any other time. But it's,
again a sort of moody thing down in the half -swamp, half-
bottom land, where they had a few cattle in pasture.
It's a very early one .
GOODWIN: Let's take a look at this other watercolor
[The House on the Hill ] .
SHEETS: Well, this was a painting of the same house
actually that was in that oil painting. It was done on
the scene as just a shot taken in place, whereas the
other was a composition. I moved buildings around that
had been in other parts of the area when I made the
larger painting. But this was about the same period.
GOODWIN: Do you have favorite subjects or motifs?
SHEETS: Well, of course I love everything, really. I
love landscape, the sea; I like people; I like particu-
larly things with people and/or horses, which I love
very much because I've raised them all my life and I've
been around them all my life. I'm afraid they crop into
more pictures than the average person would use a horse,
but it's because I like them very much. Also I like
landscape, and I like old ranches and all things that
have character. Although I'm not so much interested in
the surface of every shingle as some painters are, I'm
interested in the mood that you find in these places.
GOODWIN: Let's look now at some later work in another
part of the gallery.
We've actually jumped forward a great distance in
time. We're looking at three paintings that date from
the sixties, I believe. We have two watercolors on
either side of the larger painting, but the larger
painting is an acrylic. It's evident to me, especially
in color, that this painting in particular [ Familia
Equus in Elysian Field , 1967] represents a dramatic
departure from the paintings we just viewed.
SHEETS: Yes, this is about the period when I really
became tremendously interested in color, apart from
dark and light. You have to, of course, have dark and
light in any painting, but as far as my new exciting
interest in color, it developed about this period. I
did a whole series of acrylics, as well as watercolors
and oils, that sent me into a whole new period of
GOODWIN: How did that come about, Mr. Sheets?
SHEETS: Well, I think it came about because I realized
after painting for a very long time that I was always
stopped at a certain point. I never seemed to be able to
go beyond a certain gate. I tried to analyze what it was
that made me keep everything high-keyed to a degree,
although those early pictures were low-key. Most of
the painting preceding this was fairly high-keyed, and
I think it was a precious attitude toward watercolor
painting particularly that developed this within me.
As I recognized the fact that the world is almost infinite
in its variety and certainly in its moods, I found that
you can put your picture high or low in dark and light,
or you can give it brilliant and intense color, or you
can have muted color, or you can have a combination of
both, I realized that I'd been probably following a kind
of routine, if not habit, as an approach to problems. So
it was about this time that I decided that I would try to
get as much color as I could against muted color. I
think the reason that this seems to have a lot of color
is that there are enough greys and muted colors in it to
give you a sense of color. If you use raw colors all
over, they fight each other. But if you have enough
contrast between greyed and muted color against real
color, you get a greater sense of color. There's nothing
particularly bright about this picture. It does have
some yellows and some bright reds, but the value scheme
is very close, actually. There's no real dark in it,
and there's no real light in it. It's a muted picture,
although it does have more sense of color.
GOODWIN: At this point in your work, are you still
working closely with nature or are you freer to compose,
say, in your own studio?
SHEETS: Well, I've been doing that for many years,
working in the studio, but I've always felt that you
have to do both. For me I find it extremely exciting
to go out and paint, even today. Maybe I'm not as agile
as I used to be, and it isn't as comfortable as it used
to be sitting around in the cold and wind and on the
ground, but I feel great when I go out painting. Then
I feel equally excited to come back and work purely from
the things that are in my head and the memory of beautiful
things. Very often I make a painting from a little rough
pen drawing that I might have made ten or fifteen years
ago, and it wasn't even a very descriptive pen drawing,
maybe just a few lines to suggest something. I go through
files and sketchbooks and that kind of thing, sometimes,
and work like that. This one is purely a composition, of
course, with the elements that I like: flowers and hills
and water and horses. But I like acrylic because it's a
medium you can work in on and on. I paint all my large
murals in acrylic. It's much easier to work indefinitely
GOODWIN: Let's move in back here, looking at a painting
called Spanish — whoops, that's the painting we just moved.
This is a painting of India. No, Nepal. [ Old Temple ,
Katmandu , Nepal , 1968]
SHEETS: Right. It's an old temple in Nepal. I probably
became more descriptive here than I had done for a long
time, but I was quite enamored with the temples and the
architecture and the costumes of the people. On trips
of this kind, I liked very much to make good records and
notes which mean something to me, from which, again, your
ideas flow more easily and freely when you get back in
your studio, and sometimes even many, many years later.
Of course, with that fantastic little piece of the
Himalayas back there, you get some sense of the wildness
of this country. But the rivers are very bold and strong,
This one happened to be in a fairly dry season, but they
really have fantastic rivers and unbelievable, dramatic
GOODWIN: This seems to be a much tighter painting than
the one we just looked at.
SHEETS: Well, that's what I meant when I said that very
often I work in a more descriptive sense to get material
together and really figure out how that particular place
works. Then perhaps later on, not that I would paint
this over again, but I might use this kind of thing in
the background of a composition, where I would use it
much more freely because I understand it. I like to
feel that part of your work regularly is to research.
It's to find out how things are made. I do love the
facts sometimes, and this happens to be one of those
GOODWIN: You've painted everywhere in the world you've
SHEETS: Yes, I certainly have. That's one of the great
things about watercolor as a medium. You can carry it
with you so easily. When you're through, you put it in
your portfolio immediately. You don't have to wait for
oil paint to dry. It's very, very easy to travel with.
I carry about fifty pounds of equipment with me when I
go around the world, but that isn't too bad.
GOODWIN: Let's look at another scene from India, I
SHEETS: No, that's also Nepal [The Cloth Dyers, Katmandu,
Nepal , 1967]. It's along another river where they dye
the material that they use for native costumes. It's
dyed in long, long strips, then it's cut up later for
use as a garment. But after they've washed it in the
river all day, they stretch it out on the sand — it's
fairly clean sand— and they let it dry out. Then it's
ready to be used. But it makes nice patterns, and the
people are colorful .
GOODWIN: You've explained in the past that any painting,
whether it's representational or not, should have a solid,
underlying design. Does this painting have more of an
abstract quality to you than, say, the one we just looked
SHEETS: Yes, I think so. It probably does have. I
think just the arrangement of the stripes within the
page and the river and the simplification of the land-
scape and all that, with those little buildings in the
background, making it a shape against this as a shape —
I think that's true. I try to do that in almost every
painting. Sometimes you fail, but you try.
GOODWIN: How consistent do you feel you are as a painter?
Are you pleased with most everything you do or are there
rare occasions when you feel that you've done something
SHEETS: Oh, I certainly feel that way. I've never
painted anything I didn't try very hard to paint well.
I have never painted anything just to make a painting.
I've never turned out a picture in my life just for the
sake of turning out a picture. But I do think that you
do go through doors occasionally that are very exciting.
When you go through that door, you know it, because the
painting certainly reflects it. On trips, you gather
steam, as a rule. When I go, for instance to Tahiti for
two or three weeks, or to India — it doesn't make any
difference — or to Mexico, after about half of the time,
you really warm up. It's not different than a football
player. You get so with it that you begin to work very
much more instinctively, and you put more of yourself
into it. You're less involved with what you see. Every
so often you go through a brand-new door, like this
working in the new color a few years ago. I was, I
suppose, hopped up in the sense that I had really broken
through something that had bothered me all my life. I
painted with great intensity for a long time with just
the exhilaration of that sense of breaking through. But
every painting is an effort, as far as I'm concerned, to
find out something or to express something that I feel
very deeply. Sometimes they certainly don't necessarily
happen in the same painting. A lot of research is impor-
tant to any development, I believe. Maybe I'm just a
slow thinker and have to research slowly, but I contin-
uously work at it.
GOODWIN: Good. Let's look at some more examples of your
painting in the other side of the gallery.
SHEETS: All right.
GOODWIN: We're looking at three more paintings from the
1960s. The central painting is an acrylic, and the two
outside paintings are watercolors. It seems to me that
the central painting represents a more romantic and more
fantastic kind of imagery than the two watercolors.
SHEETS: Well, it does. There's no doubt about it, George
I think this is closer to the way I paint today, much
closer than the ones we've been looking at. Again, it's
a composition made from just feelings about places. I've
been along the sea of northern California practically the
length of California, and there are many places that I
enjoy, little bays and the marvelous trees that come
right down to the water. This is purely a composition,
but I feel freer both in color and in design when I work
that way. There's no doubt about it.
GOODWIN: Let's compare it briefly to the landscape of
Istanbul. [ Istanbul , Turkey , 1971]
SHEETS: Well, in this case, if you've ever been to
Istanbul, you know that the waterfront is a teeming place.
In fact, the whole city is. With the excitement that
these big mosques give to the skyline and the activity
along the Bosporus, the boats and the shacks and the
people, I suppose it's deliberately made to appear busy
like the area felt to me. I've never been colder in my
life that I was when I painted that picture, but I did
paint it and I finished it right on the spot. It was a
tremendously difficult thing because of the cold, but I
thoroughly loved Istanbul. I've been there many times.
GOODWIN: We've discussed earlier how you paint water-
color, but could you just briefly review the steps you
follow in a painting like this?
SHEETS: Well, in a watercolor, of course, you depend
upon the white of the paper to be your white pigment —
you use no white — so naturally you have to preserve these
lighter areas. At the same time, in order to make this
water shine with the light on it, the sky had to come
down far enough in value. So in this case, I threw a
wash right over the whole background that was approximately
the color of that sky. Oh, I think that perhaps had two
washes on it. That way this whole thing all pulled
together, and I might have wiped that out with a sponge
halfway between these values. Just with one swipe you
can do that. You build it up with underpainting the same
way you put stud walls up before you put shingles or
surfaces on the walls. I think that watercolor, when
you feel that free about it, is much more fun than when
you are precious about it and say, "Well, once over and
that's it." That's what I meant a little earlier when
I said to go down in value and to go into any kind of
richness of tone, to hold this whole dark and at the
same time make it luminous and open, you've got to get
it down there first in value in order to make it really
work against the greyness of that dark value, against
that sky. Watercolor is a very direct medium, but you
have to build it just like any other medium.
GOODWIN: Are these whites that have been unpainted?
SHEETS: That's paper. That's unpainted. I've never
used any white at all.
GOODWIN: Do you ever use a razor blade?
SHEETS: No, I don't. I don't think it's necessary. If
I want to take something out, I can cut a little mask, a
piece of paper, and use a sponge, and get pure white out
of it without abusing the paper. I just don't feel happy
about cutting it. I don't think it's necessary. If I
want to paint a flock of sea gulls going right through
there, I could take some shapes of cut-out sea gulls and
make twenty-five sea gulls running right through the
thing, all white if I wanted to. It ' s no problem.
There's no reason to have to use a knife. I think it's
a kind of abuse of the paper.
GOODWIN: Let's see exactly how you've done that with
another painting on this wall. [ Gulls Migrating , 1968]
SHEETS: Well, I don't believe that I actually wiped
these out, but I think you can see the drawing of the
birds, as I drew them in. These women come down to the
pool to get water. As you see, there are three or four
figures going back up toward the little village. As
they come down, they nearly always raise a few birds.
This is a case where you just have the simple trunks
of the trees and the roots and the pool and the birds
and the women and that's it. But this one happened to
be very thoroughly designed. I draw with a pen a great
deal because I think it's a very nice quality. I use a
pen that doesn't in any way bleed. It's waterproof. So
when I commit myself, I've really committed myself. But
I find it's good for me to do that, to make up my mind.
GOODWIN: We've noticed just from a few paintings that
the horse is a favorite subject of yours, but it also
is evident that birds are, too.
SHEETS: Yes, I love birds. I love everything about
nature. I think the magic of life is so infinite that
the more we can crowd our feeling about it into a
painting the better.
GOODWIN: We're going to look at one more group of
paintings in another gallery.
We're actually looking at a tapestry and not a
painting [ Falconers , 1960] . This was a tapestry that
was designed as a result of Mr. Sheets 's trip to the
Negev, in Israel.
SHEETS: Yes, I had the real pleasure of seeing a large
encampment of Bedouins, who were in the southern part of
Israel, at the time I was there making a motion picture.
They were having a marvelous time with their horses, as
many as fifty or seventy-five of them galloping at one
time in a wild race. Then others were using their
falcons. It was like going back to the sixteenth or
seventeenth century. I loved the textures on the Negev.
There is a very fuzzy, little growth that is kind of
exciting, I think the tapestry has the spirit of it,
as I remembered it. I had the pleasure of making the
cartoon and then sending it to Aubusson in France,
where it was woven.
GOODWIN: I've learned something in particular this
morning that I didn't really anticipate. That is, in
the past we've spoken a great deal about the importance
of drawing — not only in your work but in the work of
students — and it appears to me that color plays such
a pervasive role in your painting, that you really
have a very fanciful and romantic use of color.
SHEETS: Well, this again is about the same period as
those two acrylics that we looked at. I think it was
the reveling in the new use of color that made this
perhaps seem more colorful to you. I love the subtle-
ties in funny brown bushes and, of course, I like the
spots on horses, and I like the textures that you get.
But I am tremendously excited about color, and all of
my large murals now, that I've done in the last ten or
fifteen years, have shown this same thing because I'm
really very much interested in color. You can't
separate it from drawing or values, but I think it's
necessary to create a color chord in the same way that
a musician creates chords. Whether you have it in dis-
sonance or harmony, the chords must be there. This has
been my search, I think, for the past fifteen years,
particularly in all my painting. Even in my buildings,
I work very hard to get this juicy quality, as though
everything has been dipped in one kind of a juice.
GOODWIN: Mr. Sheets, is there a difference between your
commercial style and your personal style?
SHEETS: Only because of the problems that are involved
with a commercial work of art. You have an obligation
to meet the needs of the problem, which does impose
special restrictions. But as far as I'm concerned,
there's absolutely no difference in my approach.
GOODWIN: I'd like to try and bring some loose ends
together in terms of a conclusion to this project. I
know art historians like to use labels, but I don't know
what to do in your instance, because we've reviewed your
work as an artist, architectural designer, educator,
correspondent, diplomat, collector, equestrian--what
kind of label do we put on you?
SHEETS: I don't think I have to have a label, do I?
Don't you think that the important thing in life is to
get the most out of it? As far as I'm concerned, every-
thing I've done has been because I was intrigued and
excited about the potential of doing the thing. I have
always thought primarily of myself as a painter. If I
lived my life over again, though I might have been a
better painter if I had not done these other things,
I certainly would go through, I'm sure, the same kind
of experiences. I've thrived on them, in the sense that
I really believe in an artist being involved in life,
not living in a special place unless he has very excep-
tional talent, which I, perhaps, don't have. I think
there are people who can live in an ivory tower, but an
ivory tower has never been for me.
GOODWIN: Thank you very much for participating in this
project. It's been a pleasure.
SHEETS: It's certainly been my pleasure, and I certainly
appreciate everything you've done, George.
GOODWIN: Thank you.
Abbey, Edward Austin
Ahmanson, Mrs. Howard
Alexander, Hubert G.
American Academy, Rome
Angelus Temple Church of
the Foursquare Gospel
Millard Sheets (book)
Art Center School
Association of American Colleges
Astoria Hotel, Leningrad
Autumn Salon, Paris
Avignon Pieta , Louvre
297, 334-335, 368-
390, 396, 417-419,
99, 104, 105-106
Barbizon Plaza Hotel, New York
Barking Rocks, Gualala, California
see Sheets, Mary Baskerville
Baskerville, Mary Dalton
Beckett, Wei ton D.
Beverly Hills Club
Biltmore Gallery (Biltmore-Cowie)
Boy Scouts of America
Bridge of Espallion
British Broadcasting Corporation
British Museum, London
Bryan, William A.
Bullock's Department Store
California Art Club
California Coastal Commission
California Institute of the Arts
California Watercolor Society
Carnegie International Exhibition,
Chace, Burton W.
Chamt>erlain, F. Tolles
Chamberlain, Mrs. Tolles
Chicago Tribune (newspaper)
33, 91, 93,
24, 58, 363
19, 21, 23, 24,
3, 35, 89, 351-
Chouinard Art Institute
see also Claremont Men's College;
Harvey Mudd College; Pomona
College; Scripps College
Claremont Men's College
Colorado Springs Fine Arts
Center, School of Art
Columbia Broadcasting System
Columbia Showcase Company
Comfort, Will Levington
Copley, John Singleton
Cowie, Alexander, and Gallery
17, 18-19, 57, 89,
17-22, 29, 32, 33-
37, 41, 45, 56-57,
69, 89-94, 167-168,
Davidson, Howard C.
Davidson, Mrs. Howard C.
Davis, Edgar B., Prize
De Kruif, Henri
Detroit Institute of Arts
Detroit Public Library
Disney, Walt, Studios
21, 33-34, 90, 124,
141, 145, 352
33, 90, 93, 162,
339-342, 343, 344
90, 124, 340
Dorn, Warren M. 338
Duveen, Joseph 25
Earhart, Amelia 247
Earl, Ralph 537
Edmondson, Leonard 3 21
Edward VII, King of England 491
Egan, Mark 448-449
Ellerbe and Associates 422-424, 430, 434-
Everett, Josephine 113
Falcon (flying school) 182
Federated Department Stores 539, 541
Feitelson, Lorser 359, 365-366
Fenci, Renzo 321
Flannery, James 260-261
Fong, Jade 76, 290
Ford, John Anson 315-318, 337, 503
Francesca, Piero della 446
Freed, Ernest 330
Fuller, Dick 553
Art Through the Ages 19
Garibaldi, Giuseppe 491
Garrison, Robert H. 472, 474
Garrison, Mrs. Robert H. - 472, 474
Garrison Theatre, Claremont 171, 469-476
GI Bill of Rights 91, 125, 128-129
Gilbert, Cass 39-40, 41, 42
see Interpace Company
Glendale Airport 173
Gogh, Vincent van 24, 29, 105-107,
Golden Gate Exposition, 356, 358
Goldwater, Barry 530-531
Goodhew, Bertram 97
Gordon, Elizabeth 279
Gottlieb, Adolph 294
Graham, Don 21, 90
Great Ziegfield, The (film) 498
Harrison, Preston, and collection
Harvey Mudd College
Hatfield, Dalzell, and Gallery
Hatfield, Mrs. Dalzell
Hermitage Museum, Leningrad
Hilton Hotel, Honolulu
Hollywood Savings and Loan
Homes Savings and Loan Association
San Diego branch
San Francisco branch
Santa Maria branch
Santa Monica branch
Homer, Win slow
Honolulu Academy of Art
House Beautiful (periodical)
Hulburd, David, Jr.
Huntington Library and Art Gallery
10, 11, 264
12, 13, 17, 22,
32-33, 36, 58
367, 380, 382-405,
409-417, 418, 460
Irish, Mrs. Leiland Atherton
Jam Saheb of Nawanger, The
Joseph and His Brethren (film)
Joubert de la Ferte, Philip B.
Joyce, Edmund P.
94, 111-112, 113,
114, 117, 118
35, 90, 321, 347
Knudsen, Vern O.
Ladd, Thornton, and Associates
Laguna Beach Art Association
Lang , Mr .
Lang, Florence Rand
Linlithgow, Lord Victor A.J.H.
Los Angeles Art Academy
Los Angeles Athletic Club
Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce
Los Angeles City Hall
Los Angeles County Board of
90, 164, 170
188, 215, 234,
238, 240, 246,
Los Angeles County Fair
"5,000 Years of Art in Clay"
"One World of Art"
"Painting in the U.S."
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Preston Harrison collection
Los Angeles County Seal
Los Angeles Examiner (newspaper)
Los Angeles Times (newspaper)
9-10, 32, 264-276,
278-281, 287, 293-
296, 302-309, 311
279-281, 287, 293,
23-24, 267, 294-
297, 300, 339,
86, 275-278, 333,
McFee, Henry Lee
McNaughton, Elizabeth Baskerville
McPherson, Aimee Semple
Ma loo f, Sam
Joseph and His Brethren
March Air Force Base, Riverside
Martinez, Alfred Ramos
see Scottish Rite Masonic Temples
Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
"Artists for Victory"
124, 141, 145
131, 140, 405
24, 29, 48, 135,
58, 271, 278, 295,
Modern Institute of Art,
Modra, Theodore B.
Montclair Museum, New Jersey
Moscow News (newspaper)
Moselly, Corliss C.
Mosman, Warren T.
Mountbatten, Lord Louis
Music Center of Los Angeles County
485, 489, 490
19, 43, 72
9-11, 13, 17, 44,
58, 264-266, 267,
National Academy of Design, New York
National American Insurance
Building, Los Angeles
National Endowment for the Arts
National Gallery of Art,
National Shrine, Washington D.C.
Newhouse Gallery, Los Angeles
Newhouse Gallery, New York
New Orleans Drama Society
North Carolina Museum of Art,
Notre Dame University
297, 298, 309
159-163, 164, 169,
Otis Art Institute
Otis Art Institute Gallery
Owen, Hal lie
Hal lie Owen
17, 18, 58, 91, 93,
134, 266, 294, 295,
315-339, 349, 501,
1, 3-4, 5-6, 15
1, 3-6, 15
Palace of the Legion of Honor,
Pan Pacific Auditorium
Pasadena Art Museum
"California Design" series
Pasadena City College
Perrin, Chauncey C.
Perrin, Hallie Owen
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Pijuan y Soteras, Jose
see also Scripps College
Pomona High School
Poor, Henry Varnum
Powell and Powell
Prix de Rome
94, 95, 97
6-7, 16, 20
124, 268, 307
72, 135, 144,
8, 16-17, 38,
100, 109, 123
19, 129, 130-
Radio City Music Hall, New York
Ravenna Mosaic Company, St. Louis
Reader' s Digest (periodical)
Rembrandt van Rijn
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano
San Diego Fine Arts Gallery
San Francisco Art Institute
Santa Anita Race Track
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Schroder, Edwin R.
Scott, Virginia Steele,
Scott, Virginia Steele,
Scottish Rite Masonic Temple,
Scottish Rite Masonic Temple
(Grand Lodge), San Francisco
Scripps College, Pomona
Lang Art Gallery
Scripps College Fine Arts Foundation
Sears, Roebuck and Company
Seattle Art Museum
168, 531-538, 557
38, 50, 57, 88-89,
94-101, 107, 108-
150, 153, 158, 161,
Sheets, John A.
Sheets, John G.
Sheets, Mrs. John G. (stepmother)
Sheets, Mary Baskerville
Sheets, Millard Owen, Jr.
Sheets, Milly Owen (Mrs. John G.)
Shriners Hospital for
Solomon, King of Israel
Southern Methodist University
Southern University, Baton Rouge
South Pasadena Junior High School
Sovietskaya Hotel, Moscow
Stendahl, Earl, and Gallery
Stickney Art Institute
Stilwell, Joseph W.
Stone, Edward Dure 11
Lust for Life
6, 51, 54, 89,
99, 106, 114,
180, 240, 253,
261, 507, 510-
532, 542, 554-
, 6, 7
6, 27, 28
175, 176, 179
Taylor, Florence Ingal
(Mrs. George A. )
Texas A & M University
Texas Tech University, The Museum of
Thunderbird I (flying school)
Thunderbird II (flying school)
Tile and Marble Helpers and
Time - Life
see also Life
United Press International
U.S. Air Force
Corps of Engineers
U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Department of State
American Specialist Program
U.S. Department of the Treasury
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Public Works Administration
University of Arizona
University of California, Berkeley
School of Architecture
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Santa Cruz
University of Hawaii
University of Illinois
University of Iowa
University of Mexico, Mexico City
University of Minnesota
University of Nebraska
University of New Mexico
University of Oklahoma
University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Van Sant, Tom
Veale, Bill 31, 39-40, 45, 50
Vermeer, Jan 44-45
Vista del Arroyo Hotel, Pasadena 113
Voulkos, Peter 321, 330-331
Vysekal, Edouard 58, 363
Wallace, John 399
Warren, Earl 273-275
Washington, George 493
Watkins, Franklin 312
Watrons, Frank 55
Watson, Helen 332
Waugh, William 25
Wavell, Archibald Percival 219-222
Wavell, Mrs. Archibald 220-222
Webster, Ida 13
White, Theodore 244
Will, Arthur 337, 338
Wilson, William 86
Witte Memorial Museum, 31
San Antonio, Texas
Wood, Beatrice 551
Wood, Grant 152-153
Wurl, Edward 245-253, 255
Wiarl, Mrs. Edward 2 55
Xavier University, New Orleans 154-155
Yens, Carl 59
Young Men's Christian Association 15-16, 352
Zajac, Jack 129-132, 134
Zerubabel 491, 493
Zornes, Milfred 96
INDEX OF MILLARD SHEETS V70RKS
Arizona Mission 544
Cloth Dyers , Katmandu , Nepal , The 564-565
Detroit Public Library mural 419-422
Falcolners (tapestry) 570
Familia Eguus in Elysian Field 560-562
Garrison Theatre, Claremont, 170-171, 469-476
building and mosaics
Golden Gate Exposition murals 356
Gulls Migrating 569-570
Gypsy series 36-38
Hilton Hotel, Honolulu, rainbow 476-481
Hollywood Savings and Loan mural 352-353
Home Savings and Loan buildings
see entry in main index
House on the Hill , The 559
Istanbul , Turkey , 567-568
Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce mural 356-357
Los Angeles City Hall East mural 481-485
Mayo Clinic mural
National Shrine, Washington, D.C. 454-459, 461
Notre Dame University Library mosaic 422-454, 462-463
Old Temple , Katmandu , Nepal 563, 565
River Bottom -"-"^
South Pasadena Junior High School 353-356
Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, Los 428, 485-498
Angeles, building and mosaic
Scottish Rite Masonic Temple (Grand 496-497
Lodge), San Francisco, building
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